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Educators, Activists Criticize Bush’s Position on Affirmative Action

Educators, Activists Criticize Bush’s Position on Affirmative Action
By Charles Dervarics

Political fallout continues from the Bush administration’s recent stance on the University of Michigan affirmative action case, as groups representing African Americans and Hispanics strongly criticized the White House decision to oppose the university’s policy.

The president “has decided that equalizing the field of opportunity for women and people of color is no longer a priority,” says Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. At a time when Americans were honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the White House “busied itself with attempts to dismantle equal access to higher education,” she says.

In briefs filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, the administration said colleges and universities should use all race-neutral means for diversity before considering race as an admissions factor.

“At their core, the Michigan policies amount to a quota system that unfairly rewards or penalizes prospective students, based solely on their race,” Bush said.

While the president says he supports racial diversity in higher education, he characterizes Michigan’s policy of providing extra admissions points based on race as unconstitutional. “The method used by the University of Michigan to achieve this important goal is fundamentally flawed,” he said.

Supporters of the plan, including the University of Michigan’s president, strongly disagree with that view. “We do not have, nor have we ever had, quotas or numerical targets,” says Dr. Mary Sue Coleman, the university’s president.

Before Bush’s decision, groups such as the American Council on Education and the United Negro College Fund had signed a letter to the White House urging Bush to support the Michigan plan.

“Bush’s opposition to the University of Michigan’s affirmative action program sends a tragic message to millions of African Americans and Latinos who rely very heavily on education as an avenue to opportunity,” says Shirley Wilcher, executive director of Americans for a Fair Chance, which supports affirmative action.

While the White House spoke with one voice in its Supreme Court briefs, some top administration officials — particularly Secretary of State Colin Powell — acknowledged that they hold different views. Powell has said he supports the University of Michigan policy.

Bush also received input on the issue from national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, a former provost at Stanford University. Rice is playing down reports that she had a key role in formulating Bush’s policy on the case following a front-page article in the Washington Post, saying just that. She said she supports diversity in higher education and believes universities should be able to use race as a factor in admissions policies. She also said she supports the president’s decision.

“I think the president has come out in exactly the right place here,” she said on “Meet the Press” last month. Bush made a “strong statement” about the importance of diversity in higher education, but he also came out against quotas.

“I believe that while race-
neutral means are preferable, it is appropriate to use race as one factor among others in achieving a diverse student body,” Rice said in a released statement.

Proponents of the Michigan case have until mid-February to file their briefs in the case.

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