Different Kind of ‘Bias’ Benefitted President Bush
Here is another interesting article about Michigan’s affirmative action plan by Chicago Sun-Times Columnist Debra Pickett. Check out link or read article below. Nothing really new here, but I’m glad to see others share my opinion on this matter. According to latest Newsweek poll, two-thirds of Americans are against affirmative action. No surprise there. But I’m wondering, how are universities/colleges suppose to achieve racial diversity if they don’t consider race on some level? Or better yet, should racial diversity still be a goal?
Different kind of ‘bias’ benefitted president
January 17, 2003
BY DEBRA PICKETT SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST
I’ve been counting and, so far, have come up with exactly one thing I have in common with President Bush: We both went to Ivy League schools, the same ones our fathers did. Which makes us beneficiaries of one of the coziest little affirmative action programs this fine country has to offer.
Bush stopped short of actually uttering the words “affirmative action” when he got us all talking about this Wednesday. Instead, he kept to the specifics of the University of Michigan admissions formulas that are the subject of a case now before the Supreme Court, calling them “divisive, unfair and impossible to square with the Constitution.”
He didn’t mention anything about the whole deal with Ivy League alumni kids.
Bush was a C student. His SAT score, 1206 out of a possible 1600, while above the national average, was well below average for Yale’s class of 1968. He got in primarily because he was a “legacy,” the son of an alumnus. This might sound divisive and unfair, especially if you are, let’s say, a very smart kid whose parents didn’t go to Yale, but it does square with the Constitution, because Yale, like the University of Pennsylvania, where I went to school, is a private institution.
The University of Michigan is a state school, publicly funded and, as far as the law is concerned, an “agency of the government.” It doesn’t have the kind of legal leeway the Ivy League schools do.
Michigan, which receives about 25,000 applications every year for its undergraduate classes of 5,000 students, devised a 150-point scale for ranking its applicants. Twenty points–about one-fifth of what it takes to get in–are given for applicants whose presence on campus would help the university meet its diversity goals. African-American and Hispanic students get the points, as do recruited athletes and those from poor families. And Michigan’s law school sets aside a certain number of seats each year for African-American and Hispanic applicants.
When some Michigan state legislators heard about the university’s admissions policies, they put out a call for white students who believed they’d been rejected because less-qualified African-American and Hispanic students were accepted instead. The Center for Individual Rights, a Washington legal foundation, came forward to underwrite a lawsuit. And plenty of pissed-off white kids stepped up to volunteer. Interestingly, they didn’t seem to be pissed off about the football players and basketball players and impoverished kids. And, lucky for the president and me, they weren’t at all upset about the legacy kids, who, under the Michigan system, get four extra points. It was the blacks and Hispanics who really got to them.
And, of course, it was the presence of race as a factor that gave them some legal ground to stand on. Because, while there are no laws against discriminating against people who don’t have the good fortune to have parents who went to Yale, there are plenty of laws against discriminating on the basis of race. The Michigan plaintiffs say they were discriminated against because they are white.
Jennifer Gratz, a now-25-year-old white woman from Southgate, Mich., was among the first in line to sign on to the lawsuit. She told reporters that her reaction immediately after receiving her rejection letter in 1995 was, “Can we sue them?”
Though she was a B student with mediocre test scores, she was sure that some underqualified minority had taken her “spot” at Michigan. She says her life is now forever changed, that she’s given up her dream of being a doctor and that she’ll never know what kind of doors might have opened for her if she’d attended the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus, instead of the less-prestigious one in Dearborn, where she ended up.
Bush announced Wednesday that his administration will file a brief in support of Gratz’s suit. But he doesn’t seem to be putting any effort into finding the person whose “spot” he took at Yale.
It’s too bad the statute of limitations is up because it would make an interesting case: “It was 1964. I had great grades and perfect SATs, but George Bush was ahead of me in line. He spent his four years at Yale partying and drinking beer, while I would have started researching a cure for cancer.”
To be fair, I haven’t tracked down anyone who got rejected by Penn so I could apologize to them, either. I’m sure there were lots of very worthy students who didn’t get accepted because of legacy kids like me. I got lucky. They didn’t.
No matter how mathematical anybody tries to make it, the college admissions process will always be somewhat arbitrary and subjective. Because schools aren’t just looking for kids who do really well on tests. They’re looking for kids who play sports and study dead languages and, in the case of “legacies,” whose parents might be inclined to donate money.
They are also looking for kids from lots of different places. For high-profile schools, it’s really important to be able to emphasize their national reputations by saying they have students from all 50 states. In my class at Penn, we covered only 49. You could tell it really bothered the dean, who always had to correct himself when he said, “We have students from 32 countries and from all 50 states. Except Wyoming.”
We used to joke that if anyone–anyone at all–from Wyoming had applied, they would have gotten in.
I can’t tell you what to think about affirmative action.
But I can tell you not to trust the opinion of an administration run by George W. Bush, a legacy kid, and Dick Cheney, a guy from Wyoming.
Debra Pickett’s “Sunday Lunch With. . .” appears in the Sunday Sun-Times.