“The president supports affirmative access.” So said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer in a Dec. 17 press briefing. If Fleischer’s statement leaves you uncertain as to the exact nature of the president’s position on the role of race in admissions, you are not alone. The Bush administration has crafted a murky message for public consumption on the pressing question of affirmative action.

As the Jan. 16 deadline for filing amicus briefs – briefs that interested parties may file with the U.S. Supreme Court in order to influence a court’s decision – in the University’s affirmative action cases approaches, the silence from the Bush administration on this issue is speaking volumes to the nation’s civil rights leaders and the population at large.

The Justice Department is currently engaged in a debate with the White House not only over whether to file a brief, but also over the arguments contained in the brief. The administration would be short-sighted to avoid taking a stand on such a high-profile issue. Racial issues may be the defining political issues of our time, and it would therefore be unwise for the administration to appear apathetic.

Refusing to take a stand or taking a disingenuous stand in favor of affirmative action in order to help the president’s poll numbers does not make for sound policy. The importance of affirmative action in order to increase minority representation in higher education should lead the administration to file an amicus brief supporting the University.

A recent report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights provides evidence that alternative strategies for increasing minority representation at the nation’s universities have not been successful. The so-called “percentage plan,” which President Bush supports and calls “affirmative access,” has been a clear failure in the president’s home state of Texas, according to the report.

The “percentage plan,” adopted in Texas after the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Hopwood v. Texas effectively ended affirmative action in all schools under its jurisdiction, guarantees that the top 10 percent of high school graduates in the state will be admitted into a public institution of higher learning in Texas.

Since the enactment of this policy, the University of Texas at Austin, for example, has seen a decrease in black and Hispanic admittance rates despite the fact that blacks and Hispanics have been applying to the school in larger numbers. Similar problems are present at other Texas schools. Other strategies intended to be substitutes for affirmative action in California and Florida also do not pass the muster of the Commission on Civil Rights.

These results provide evidence that ending affirmative action will likely depress black and Hispanic representation at institutes of higher learning around the country.

If Bush wants to help ensure the continued diversification of higher education, he should have his administration file an amicus brief persuading the Supreme Court to uphold the University’s admissions policies.

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