Bush on right course in dispute involving affirmative action

March 26, 2003|By GREGORY KANE

REP. ELIJAH Cummings, the new Congressional Black Caucus chairman, sat in The Sun's editorial board room and demanded to know why those for the war in Iraq feel those against it aren't Americans.

"How dare anyone say I'm not American?" Cummings said he asked a recent gathering.

He's right, of course. So the liberal congressman and the conservative columnist from City College's Class of 1969 agree on at least two things. The first is that we would proudly call ourselves one of Samuel Banks' boys. (Banks was a City College history teacher who went on to work in school administration.) The second is that being against war is not anti-American. It is American.

Few American wars have been without significant opposition. Critics of the War of 1812 called it "Mr. Madison's War." The Mexican War of 1846-1848 was such a monumental disgrace that Americans should set a day aside to wear bags over our heads in shame. (Henry David Thoreau refused to pay his poll taxes to protest that war.) Northern Democrats railed against President Lincoln's policies in the War Between The States. Mark Twain used his pen to skewer the American suppression of the Filipino rebellion in the early 1900s.

So Cummings, in opposing the war, finds himself in darned good company. Why, oh why, can't the man be as reasonable on that University of Michigan affirmative action dispute?

Cummings prefaced his remarks about the pending Supreme Court decision on whether the University of Michigan's policy of awarding points based on race violates the 14th Amendment by noting, "We [the caucus] believe African-American people are under attack in every segment of our society." He pointed to President Bush's opposition to the University of Michigan plan as an example.

"We have a president," Cummings said, "dedicated to keeping black people out of the school."

When things like this are uttered, even from the lips of a colleague, friend and old high school chum, you have to wonder if there isn't a wee bit of demagoguery afoot. Was Cummings really saying that if the University of Michigan didn't award 20 points to black and other "underrepresented" minorities based solely on race that there would be no black students there?

"Two percent," Cummings said of the number of black students the University of Michigan would have if the points-for-race policy were scrapped. That's not quite the same as Cummings' implication that Bush sought to exclude all black students from the school, but Cummings made clear that a black student body of 2 percent wasn't high enough.

Ah, yes. You're probably wondering, "Who makes up these rules?" Liberals do, of course, and they figure theirs is the first, last and only word on what percentage of minority students at the University of Michigan - or any other institution of higher learning - is acceptable.

So what is the magic minority percentage of the student bodies of predominantly white colleges and universities that must be attained for the nirvana of "diversity" to officially be achieved? Five percent? Ten? Fifteen?

It doesn't matter. Once percentages enter the picture, the quotas affirmative action proponents swear they're against (and which the Supreme Court have ruled illegal) come into play. That is why Bush opposed the Michigan plan. The man knows a racial quota when he smells one. He also knows which policies violate the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and of the assurances given by that bill's supporters that quotas wouldn't result. Wasn't it Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey who vowed to eat every page of the bill if anything in it could be construed as supporting quotas?

Cummings implied that Michigan puts far too much emphasis on SAT scores as criteria for admission.

"This society needs to examine admissions policies at colleges," the congressman said. "I did well at City, not so well on the SATs and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Howard."

That anecdote doesn't quite bolster Cummings' point. The bottom line is he got into a college and did well. Those black students who won't make the cut at Michigan without those patronizing 20 points may end up at Michigan State, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan or Detroit's fine Wayne State University. The doors to higher education for blacks won't be closed if they don't get into the University of Michigan.

Black conservative economist Thomas Sowell said that when the University of California system dropped its affirmative action program, black enrollment went down in some institutions but shot up in others "where blacks met the same requirements as everyone else." Sowell said the news media seldom report that fact.

Anyone care to guess why?

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