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In defense of diversity.

Byline: The Register-Guard

The highest-ranking black member of the Bush administration has politely but firmly distanced himself from the president's decision to urge the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down affirmative action admissions policies at the University of Michigan.

President Bush, who is normally quick to heed the counsel of Secretary of State Colin Powell on matters of foreign policy and national security, should give similar weight to his views on affirmative action and the importance of diversity in the educational arena.

Last week, Bush announced that his administration was filing a brief urging the Supreme Court to declare the university's policy unconstitutional. The president inaccurately - and divisively - derided the Michigan plan as consisting of "quotas" that ``unfairly reward or penalize prospective students based solely on their race.''

The concept of unfair advantage is an intriguing one for a president who was a C student at Phillips Andover and got a less-than-scintillating 1206 on his SATS - a full 180 points below the median score for the Yale University class of '68 into which he was accepted as a "legacy admittee." Apparently it's fair that Bush got into Yale because his father and grandfather were prominent Yale alums, and the latter a trustee. Apparently, it's fair that Bush landed a coveted slot at Yale while harder-working students with higher grades and higher test scores were rejected.

Bush should listen carefully when Powell questions the notion that significant diversity can be achieved without using race as one of a group of important factors to be considered in the admissions process. ``I wish it was possible for everything to be race-neutral in this country, but I'm afraid we're not yet at that point where things are race-neutral,'' he says.

National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, another high-ranking black member of the administration, says she supports the president's decision to file a brief in the case. But she is careful to add that she believes it "is appropriate to use race as one factor among others in achieving a diverse student body.'' And she notes that she was a beneficiary of diversity policies when she was hired to teach at Stanford University.

Powell's and Rice's comments go to the heart of the dispute that is before the Supreme Court. In that case, lawyers for rejected white applicants who sued the university have urged the court to outlaw the use of ``racial preferences'' in college admissions.

University lawyers rely on the Bakke decision of 1978, which struck down quotas but upheld the use of race as a factor in admissions. They argue that schools can consider a minority student's race as a ``plus'' factor in the admissions process, so long as no fixed quota is adopted.

Indeed, there is no quota system at the University of Michigan, where undergraduate admissions are based on a point system. The school does not, as Bush suggests, admit students of color who are less smart or less capable purely in the interest of diversity. The points awarded to applicants for race - like the points awarded for geography, scholarship and, yes, family legacy - are just one factor in determining admissions.

It's a policy that squares perfectly with the Bakke decision and the Constitution, and it ensures that students from the broadest possible variety of backgrounds get an opportunity to attend the university.

If Bush took the time to listen to Powell and Rice, he would understand that affirmative action programs are not about quotas but instead are the best avenues to the very "diversity and opportunity" that the president insists he wants to promote.
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Title Annotation:Powell disagrees with Bush on affirmative action; Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 25, 2003
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