Federal Desegregation Case Allows Auburn to Meet Diversity Goals
Black applicants to Auburn University are automatically admitted if they meet minimum requirements, while students of other races with similar credentials often face further review before admission, school officials said.
The two-year-old procedure is not official university policy, which would require approval by trustees, but instead is a “management practice” that helps Auburn meet both a federal desegregation ruling and its own enrollment goals, AU lead counsel Lee Armstrong told the Opelika-Auburn News in a recent article.
As recently as three years ago, Auburn admitted all students who met the minimum standards on a first-come, first-serve basis. But over-enrollment in majors such as business — while other majors fell short of enrollment goals — spurred officials to change the process.
Auburn could not change the process for all races, however, because of a 1991 court order in the state’s college desegregation case. The ruling prevented Auburn from making any admissions changes that could adversely affect Black applicants.
So effective August 2002, Auburn began subjecting non-Black applicants to a more competitive admissions process, while Black applicants only had to meet minimum standards.
Athletes, musicians and students who score a 22 on the ACT and have a 3.0 grade point average also are exempted from the competitive process.
Once those students have been admitted, the rest of the non-Black applicants who meet the minimum standards are chosen based on their test scores and grades, Auburn spokesman Roy Summerford said.
Over the last two years, Black applicants’ acceptance rate at Auburn has been about the same as the rates for non-Black students — around 81 percent. Blacks now make up 7.5 percent of the student body, a record high at the school.
Without the desegregation case, Auburn’s practice likely would be considered inappropriate in light of the 2003 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that colleges may consider race as a factor in admissions. But it struck down the University of Michigan’s policy of giving extra points to Blacks, Hispanics and American Indians.
The court, however, said the Michigan ruling did not apply to universities operating under a court order like those in Alabama’s case, known as Knight v. State of Alabama.
“If we were doing what we are doing without the Knight case being out there, there would be a question about it,” Armstrong said.
Fred Gray, a veteran civil rights attorney who has been involved with the Knight case since 1995, agreed that Auburn is obligated to carry out the desegregation order regardless of the Michigan ruling.
“I think that’s correct,” Gray said. “Knight specifically deals with Auburn … and they have a specific injunction that’s outstanding.”
Auburn is using statistical models to determine whether Black students would be harmed if they were subjected to the same competitive process as students of other races. If no adverse effect is found, school officials say they likely would drop the practice of separating Black applicants from others.
Earlier this month, Auburn announced Black students represented 7.5 percent of its student body, an all-time high. School officials attributed the increase to recruitment efforts, but they said they lack the data to know whether admissions practices played a role.
— Associated Press
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