Affirmative action supporters deserve the blame when plans are struck down

February 07, 1999|By GREGORY KANE

IN THE LATE 1950s, the prestigious Boston Latin School admitted pupils based on their grades.

"You just brought your report card to the school," recalled Phil Haverstroh, a 1959 graduate who's now an administrator at Boston Latin. Soon, so many pupils applied for the 400 to 600 slots the school could accommodate that officials devised an admissions test in the early 1960s. Pupils with the top 400 to 600 scores were admitted, Haverstroh said. Simple, no?

But, like the good deeds that never go unpunished, no simple solutions exist for long without being rendered complicated. In the early 1970s, forces went to work to undo Boston Latin's painlessly simple admissions policy. They were liberal forces, mainly the work of U.S. District Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr., who was obviously one of those judges conservatives accused of legislating from the bench.

"Judge Garrity imposed a busing plan because the school was not reflective of the population," Haverstroh said when asked why and when Boston Latin started admitting minority pupils with lower test scores than some whites. Garrity instituted the busing plan in 1974 and ruled in 1976 that Boston Latin should henceforth have a minority population of 35 percent.

"I don't know where that number [35 percent] came from," Haverstroh said. "It was a very, very bold plan he put forth."

Oh? In 1987, Garrity lifted the quota requirement. In 1996, some 20 years after his ruling, Garrity wimped out, claiming that his 35 percent quota was "constitutionally suspect."

That must be why the Boston NAACP, working in cahoots with the U.S. Department of Education, urged the Boston School Committee -- the city's school board -- not to take an appeal challenging a federal court decision striking down the daffy quota to the Supreme Court, where the justices would most likely have agreed with the repentant Garrity of 1996.

The appellate court decision allowed Sarah Wessman, a white 15-year-old from Dorchester, to attend Boston Latin. Her test scores were high enough when she applied in 1997, but because of diversity mania, she was kicked to the curb.

Here's the absurdity affirmative action proponents find themselves in: There was no discrimination at Boston Latin that excluded blacks or Hispanics.

"There's always been black and Hispanic students here," Haverstroh noted. "The number of black students in my class I could count on one hand. [Boston Latin] was mostly Jewish at the time."

Once again we see that not all minorities are equal in their minority status. Jews are obviously way too successful to be considered a minority. Blacks and Hispanics were passing Boston Latin's admissions test, but not enough of them to please Garrity and the Boston National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which filed the original lawsuit that led to this quota silliness.

The Boston Latin admissions test is, according to Haverstroh, a "scaled-down version of the SAT." It covers English, math, reading and vocabulary. The school teaches grades seven through 12. Boston Latin has a six-year college preparatory curriculum "with a classical background," Haverstroh said. Pupils take six years of Latin and four years of another foreign language. Some 98 percent to 99 percent of the graduates go on to college.

"We're geared above the minimum requirements for college admission," Haverstroh asserted.

No wonder the competition to get in is so fierce. But since the court-imposed busing plan, Boston Latin has had pupils who are, Haverstroh said, "deficient in reading and math." That's just what the testing process was supposed to avoid.

Boston Latin officials must share some of the blame. School honchos kept the quota requirement voluntarily, abandoning their simple testing concept of the early 1960s. They were suckered in by the civil rights groups and affirmative action proponents who no longer advocated fairness in the admissions process, but "diversity."

Conservatives were champing at the bit, waiting for a case that would end affirmative action in admissions once and for good. It's affirmative action's proponents, who refuse to see that something is rotten in Boston Latin's admissions quota system, who are of the greatest help to quota opponents. If Boston Latin's set-aside minority admission program is struck down, affirmative action proponents will have no one but themselves to blame.

Pub Date: 2/07/99

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