Affirmative Action Fight Far From Over, Urban League Panelists Say
The U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the use of race as a factor in college admissions was a victory for affirmative action supporters, but they say the fight will continue in state legislatures and on ballot initiatives.
“We cannot be sanguine about this fight,” said Ted Shaw, the associate director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc.
Shaw and seven other educators, lawyers and activists discussed the future of affirmative action during the final day of the National Urban League’s annual conference in Pittsburgh last month.
The battle over whether race can be considered in public education and other institutions will require the same groups that backed the University of Michigan to continue their support outside the courtroom, said Thomas A. Saenz, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
“It’s important to note that the opposition as a result to the challenges to Michigan and Michigan law school programs is an organized and well-funded opposition,” Saenz said. “We need to keep this alliance moving.”
In June, the Supreme Court upheld the affirmative action policy at the University of Michigan Law School, saying universities can consider race in admissions. But the high court struck down Michigan’s undergraduate admissions policy as too rigid (see Black Issues, July 17). Already the ruling has states and universities around the nation looking at their affirmative action policies again.
Colorado lawmakers have proposed a bill to eliminate or restrict using race to help decide college admissions after Gov. Bill Owens said he would consider signing such legislation.
Last month, a group that championed a successful ballot initiative dismantling most affirmative action programs in California launched an effort to get a similar proposal before Michigan voters. The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative proposal would forbid considering race in public education, hiring and contracting.
During the panel discussion, Jonathan Alger, assistant general counsel for University of Michigan, said affirmative action is not just the responsibility of those in higher education. Different segments of society, from elementary schools to corporations, need to work together to ensure diversity, he said.
“We all have a role to play. It’s not somebody else’s problem, it’s our problem,” Alger said.
The litmus test for the affirmative action movement will come when classes resume this fall.
“The tough calls are not the ones the justices made. It’s the ones (that) will be made in the board room throughout the nation on campuses this fall,” Howard University law professor Frank Wu said.
While race should be a component of a school’s admission process, Wu said many colleges will be tempted to back away from affirmative action to avoid lawsuits.
“The court said you can do this. The court didn’t say you must do this. And many, many colleges are already saying we don’t want to be sued, we don’t want to spend $10 million,” Wu said.
— Associated Press
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