For the first time ever, the U.S. Department of Education is investigating complaints that some universities have taken race-conscious admission policies too far.
The department’s Office for Civil Rights is currently looking at a complaint made against the University of Virginia.
This investigation into UVA’s race-conscious admissions policy marks the first time the federal government has investigated undergraduate admissions procedures at state universities since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the University’s admissions policies in June 2003. Until now, the Office for Civil Rights has focused on discrimination within scholarship programs, not admissions policies.
In May 2003, the father of a UVA applicant claimed his white son had been discriminated against and was denied admission because the school was aiming for a more racially diverse student body.
When UVA did not respond to his complaints, he turned to the DOE, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported. Spokespersons for UVA said they would not comment on a pending case.
UVA is not the only school to come under recent scrutiny for its race-conscious policies.
OCR has been asked to look into accusations against North Carolina State University, the University of Maryland–Baltimore’s School of Medicine and the law school at the College of William and Mary. All representatives for the universities declined to comment because the cases are controversial and pending.
But Chetly Zarko, spokesman for the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative — a ballot proposal that would ban race-conscious admissions in the state — said MCRI would like people at other universities to bring their cases forward.
“We hear lots of stories like the one (at UVA). We would encourage people to bring what they have forward, and we would help them find appropriate legal means to deal with their complaints,” Zarko said.
Last week, MCRI submitted more than the required number of signatures needed to get MCRI on the 2006 statewide ballot to the Michigan secretary of state.
Despite the efforts of those opposed to race-conscious admissions, many colleges have opted to take race into account in order to boost the number of minorities they admit. In 2002, 45.9 percent of whites between the ages of 18 and 21 were in college compared to 37.6 percent of blacks and 24.9 percent of Hispanics, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Proponents of race-conscious admissions have criticized Education Secretary Rod Paige, who is black, for failing to support it. At a conference in April 2003 on race-neutral ways of achieving diversity, Paige said: “Those of us who are leaders in the education community must have the courage to embrace fresh new ideas and innovative new approaches to make a good education system better and more accessible to all.”
In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the LSA point-based affirmative action system but upheld the law school’s race-conscious policy, which is not point-based. LSA now uses a race-conscious system that relies more heavily on essays and does not use points.