Wisconsin state colleges shouldn’t use an applicant’s race to help decide whether he or she gets into school, an affirmative action opponent told a packed committee hearing this week.
Ward Connerly, chairman of the California-based American Civil Rights Coalition, which supports banning public affirmative action programs, said he believes the University of Wisconsin System should look at other factors besides academics when deciding who gets a slot, but not race.
“I happen to believe … that the use of race by my government is wrong, for me or against me,” Connerly told the legislative Special Committee on Affirmative Action.
Connerly’s group helped push a successful ballot provision in Michigan this fall banning race and gender in university admissions and government hiring. Similar proposals have passed in California and Washington in the past decade, and the group has targeted nine Western states for proposals that could come up in the 2008 election.
His visit sparked outrage among students and state lawmakers who back affirmative action.
“It’s dismissing us, like we really don’t belong here,” said Mike Montgomery, an 18-year-old Black UW freshman from Los Angeles.
Connerly’s appearance comes as UW System regents consider a new, holistic admissions policy that would give greater weight to nonacademic factors such as race. They anticipate a decision early next year, perhaps in February.
The policy would require a comprehensive review of each applicant. Besides academic factors such as GPA, class rank and test scores, admissions officers would consider race, income and personal history.
UW-Madison admissions officials already perform holistic review, and other UW campuses are developing policies to follow suit, pending the regents’ approval of the system policy.
The current policy says nonacademic factors enter the equation when an applicant’s credentials alone aren’t enough to win admission.
A crowd of dozens of people — many of them Black — jammed the hearing room and filled the hallways outside. Some held their hands over their mouths as Connerly spoke.
Connerly told the committee using race as a preference in hiring and in admissions is a “Band-Aid” on racial disparity, predicting the U.S. Supreme Court won’t support it much longer.
“We are going to have to solve this problem by grabbing our own fate and making our kids learn,” he said.
State Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, a Black committee member, disputed Connerly’s views of affirmative action’s affect on their lives. She said she wasn’t a good student, and under his criteria she never would have become a lawyer.
Carlo Albano, a 21-year-old Filipino junior at UW-Milwaukee, organized the protest march. He compared doing away with race in admissions to apartheid.
Students from affluent suburban high schools tend to have better academic records because they have more resources and better counseling, giving them an edge over inner city minority students in struggling schools, Albano says, adding that considering race in admissions helps give those students a chance at college.
“Affirmative action is our tool,” he says.
Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, the committee’s chairman, defended Connerly.
In an interview before the hearing he said the committee needs to hear both sides of the affirmative action debate. He believes race helps students get into UW-Madison, the state’s flagship school, only to flunk out.
“Is our current system admitting some people who are flunking out of UW-Madison, who without these preferences would be graduating from UW-Oshkosh?” Grothman said. “Are we harming these kids?”
The affirmative action committee has the power to make recommendations that could end up in a bill. Both houses of the Legislature would have to approve the measure, and the governor would have to sign it before it could take effect.
— Associated Press
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