Affirmative action supporters perpetuate an insulting myth

April 02, 2003|By GREGORY KANE

YESTERDAY, the Supreme Court heard arguments about whether the University of Michigan's affirmative action program amounts to a quota system for "underrepresented minorities."

Much doom and gloom is predicted if the high court rules Michigan's point system is unconstitutional. Here's what Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman, speaking in a story by Sun reporter Mike Adams, predicts will happen if you're black, apply to the school and don't get your 20 points:

"What we'll see is a resegregation of the most selective institutions of higher education in this country, and I think that would be a terrible tragedy."

Everybody got that? Apparently, no black student anywhere in the country will get into Michigan if the point system is scrapped. How's that for a vote of confidence about the intellectual capabilities of blacks?

Wouldn't it be nicer if the folks who run the school were more honest? Wouldn't it be wonderful if they said, "We can't scrap the system, because then we wouldn't get all those black football players, and Ohio State would kick our patooties up and down the field every year"?

No such candor will be forthcoming. Instead we'll get the usual litany: Blacks will be set back a century, higher education won't be available to African Americans, race must be a factor to ensure diversity, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Affirmative action proponents have conveniently forgotten the history of that which they claim to cherish. Here is what President Johnson's Executive Order 11246, issued on Sept. 28, 1965, had to say.

"Government contracting agencies shall include in every Government contract hereafter entered into the following provisions: (1) The contractor will not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin. The contractor will take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin."

Now, what part of "without regard to race, creed, color or national origin" do affirmative action proponents not understand? They demand color-conscious policies, but the very policy they claim to defend specifically forbids color consciousness. So does the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The inspiration to examine the precise language of Executive Order 11246 comes from April Yvonne Garrett and Wendell F. Phillips, the executive and deputy directors, respectively, of The Groundwork Foundation Inc., a Baltimore organization dedicated to holding public forums on crucial issues. In early February, Garrett and Phillips held one on affirmative action. Garrett challenged a four-person panel to give a "legal definition" of affirmative action.

Executive Order 11246 is that legal definition. Readers will note the phrasing "without regard to race," etc. That may have been the end of it, but some folks insist on dragging the Supreme Court into these matters. The Court didn't clear up the matter in its Bakke decision of 1978. It further muddled it.

Ignoring the colorblind language of Executive Order 11246, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment, the justices ruled that quotas were illegal, but schools could use race as a "factor" in admissions.

Thus have we come to yesterday's point: justices inside, hearing the Michigan case, and protesters outside, clamoring for the school's affirmative action plan to be upheld.

The shame is, with a little creative thinking, it needn't have reached this point. Several questioners have asked if University of Michigan officials could have achieved diversity without using race as a criteria.

The answer: Of course they could have.

All they had to do was drop that 20 points for race and give 20 -- or more -- to applicants who attend Michigan inner-city high schools. Detroit's Pershing High is a good example. The university could, if admissions officers wanted, give 50 points to a student who went to Pershing and got a grade point average and SAT score to the school's liking. Race would not be a factor, because Pershing High isn't exclusively black.

It would be akin to the University of Maryland awarding points to applicants from City College -- Garrett's and Phillips' alma mater -- and Polytechnic Institute. Both schools are predominantly black but not all-black.

And both schools outperformed most of Baltimore's suburban high schools in at least three of five areas on Maryland's high school assessment tests.

A little bit of thinking goes much further than a heap of moaning.

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