U.S District Judge Bernard Friedman decided last week that the University”s Law School practices unfair and discriminatory admissions policies. Using a series of Supreme Court precedents, he found that the Law School”s policies are unconstitutional not simply because they are discriminatory the Bakke case shows that race-based discrimination is acceptable but rather because they do not show a clear attempt to “remedy carefully documented effects of past discrimination.” He also cited the fact that the Law School seeks a “critical mass” of minority students in the range of ten to 17 percent. Such a “critical mass” is, according to Friedman, not only unjustified because it is a loosely defined and ambiguous term, but also because it constitutes something of a quota system.
Affirmative action, as practiced by virtually all institutions of higher learning in this nation, is a self-described method of increasing diversity on campuses. There is no question that the admissions processes here and at other schools do a good job of securing such diversity, but the question at hand is whether or not diversity is a “compelling state interest.”
An argument about whether or not diversity is a compelling state interest is wrapped up in legal semantics. But the basic issue here involves the University”s defense that its use of discriminatory admissions policies is rectifying past instances of discrimination. Unless the University can substantially prove that its policies are aimed at providing restitution for past oppression, it”s use of discriminatory admissions is not a “compelling state interest,” and is therefore unlawful.
The Law School would have won the case if it had actually been seeking to rectify discrimination. It is true that diversity provides a better education, and giving favored status to minorities was never an issue in the case the University never pretended that they do not favor minorities more. But they failed to prove that the use of diversity is a reactionary policy meant to compensate oppressed peoples. The Law School would have won if they had been reaching out to the people who are actually oppressed: The poor.
Theories of socio-economic affirmative action have always been around. Even conservatives, who want to appear like they actually have a heart, claim that they would have no problems with socio-economic affirmative action. Since there is such an obvious push for such a program, why hasn”t it been undertaken by institutions of higher education?
The answer is simple: Universities have to look at the books. No, not the textbooks, they have to look at the accounting books. If any university wanted to make a real, concerted effort to increase the number of poor students in college, they would have to pony up and foot the bill. These kids can”t go to college for two reasons: Their high schools are sub-par and they receive a poor education from them, and they also can”t afford to go to top schools even if they are accepted. If universities gave extra consideration to the poor, they would also have to dish out copious amounts of money to ensure that they can attend. It means nothing for a university to accept an applicant, unless the university also makes it possible for the potential student to actually attend.
Jesse Jackson shows up to decry Friedman”s decision, which raises the important question: Why doesn”t a self-proclaimed civil rights activist seek to enhance opportunities for upward mobility of the truly repressed portions of our society? It”s simple poor black Americans aren”t the ones filling his bank accounts with money that can then be used to finance illegitimate children. It”s the rich Americans who have the political clout, and it”s the rich Americans who get their way at the expense of the vast majority of struggling, working class citizens.
I”d love some honesty in this process. Instead of claiming that it is reimbursing minorities for past cases of discrimination, I would love to hear the University simply admit that its brand of affirmative action seeks only to compose a diverse student body. The claims of reversing a racist trend in American education are just that: Empty claims.
By touting diversity as rectification for a racist history, University President Lee Bollinger and Law School Dean Jeffrey Lehman come out looking like champions of the civil rights movement. But they aren”t really trying to make up for discrimination, they are simply trying to guarantee a diverse student body diverse in color only. What they are doing is the equivalent of putting “Moesha” between “Friends” and “Will and Grace” on Thursday nights it may be the story of two different colors, but it”s still the story of upper class America.
Manish Raiji”s column runs every other Tuesday. Give him feedback at www.michigandaily.com/forum/ or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.