The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear Grutter and Gratz vs. Bollinger, a case challenging the University of Michigan’s racial preferences, and President Bush’s submitting an amicus curiae brief supporting the challenge has refueled the affirmative action debate. The focal point of the debate is whether affirmative action violates civil rights. It’s difficult to debate the issue intelligently because we’re talking past one another – as we haven’t chosen to define affirmative action. Let’s look at it.
Affirmative action means different things to different people. So allow me to list some of those alternative interpretations. To some Americans, perhaps most, affirmative action – let’s call it Affirmative Action I – means a policy of non-discrimination. A university or an employer should cast a wide net in its recruitment, admissions or hiring policy by advertising and recruiting in minority schools, social organizations and newspapers, but in the actual admissions or hiring, individuals are treated equally by race.
For other Americans, there’s Affirmative Action II. For them, there should be racial preferences. If a white and black candidate are equal in qualifications for university admission or employment, the preference should be given to the black candidate.
For another group of Americans, there’s Affirmative Action III. These Americans reject Affirmative Action I and II. In fact, they see those forms of affirmative action as racially insensitive at best, and at worst racist. For these Americans, affirmative action is a system of hard and fast racial preferences and unevenhandedness. It’s a racial spoils system where consideration and privileges, in whole or in part, are based solely on the race of the individual.
The University of Michigan practices Affirmative Action III. Here are its rules for admission: perfect grade point average (GPA) is worth 80 points; having a parent who attended the university, 4 points; scholarship athlete, 20; perfect SAT score, 12; outstanding essay, 3; and being a member of a minority group, 20; socioeconomic status and other characteristics account for other bonus points.
Affirmative Action III was applied to plaintiff Barbara Grutter, whose application to the University of Michigan Law School was rejected. She’s white, and had a 3.81 GPA and an LSAT score of 161, placing her in the 86th percentile nationally. At the University of Michigan, white students with those qualifications have an admission rate of only 8.6 percent. But 100 percent of black law school applicants with exactly the same qualifications are admitted.
It would seem to me that any fair-minded person would find that the Affirmative Action III practices of the University of Michigan offend every principle of decency. For those who might support the practice, I’d like to ask whether they’d object if the practice were done in reverse. That is, give white students a 20 point bonus that’s denied to black students. Or admit only 8.6 percent of black law applicants who have a 3.81 GPA and LSAT score of 161, and admit 100 percent of white students with those qualifications.
For black politicians, civil rights organizations and white liberals to support the racist practices of the University of Michigan amounts to no less than a gross betrayal of the civil rights principles of our historic struggle from slavery to the final guarantee of constitutional rights to all Americans. Indeed, it was practices like those of the University of Michigan, but against blacks, that were the focal point of much of the civil rights movement.
If the U.S. Supreme Court has any respect for the U.S. Constitution in the case of Grutter and Gratz vs. Bollinger, I cannot imagine just what words they’d use in a finding that the University of Michigan’s practices are constitutional. But then again, the history of the Court is one of social engineering and constitutional contempt.