Group Says Nebraska College Biased Against Whites

LINCOLN, Neb.

A group supporting a Nov. 4 ballot measure to end affirmative action says the University of Nebraska College of Law discriminates against White students, but school officials say they never released data that could produce that finding.

The Virginia-based Center for Equal Opportunity released a study on Wednesday. The group says the study shows that minorities, namely Blacks and Hispanics, have been admitted to the college with lower test scores than Whites who were not admitted.

The ballot measure would prohibit state and local governments from giving preferential treatment to people on the basis of race, sex, ethnicity or national origin.

Law school Dean Steven Willborn questioned the statistics that were the basis of the group’s findings. He said the college did not provide the group with information that showed the race and ethnicity of students.

Roger Clegg, president of the group and a former assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department, said during a news conference that the law college did provide data that revealed the race and ethnicity of applicants and those admitted.

Willborn acknowledged, however, that race is a factor in admissions decisions.

“We give preference to people within racial and ethnic categories,” Willborn said. “The only way we can provide a good education to all our students is to provide a climate … where there’s a whole bunch of diverse points of view.”

For that reason, Willborn said, he didn’t have a problem with the admitting minority students who may have lower test scores than White students.

Clegg said the law college had the second-most discriminatory admission practices of the five or six law colleges his group has studied.

“A lot of White students not getting in have better qualifications than African-American students that are getting in,” Clegg said.

“It is useful to have students from a variety of backgrounds, but … you don’t have to use race and ethnicity as a proxy for what people’s backgrounds are,” he added later.

Willborn said the center reached broad conclusions based on a small number of students. According to statistics provided by the group, 14 of 41 Black students who applied to the law college were admitted to the college last year, although not all of them enrolled.

By comparison, 273 of 729 White applicants were admitted.

“They’re talking about something like 14 or 15 African-Americans admitted to the law school, and that’s why they want to change the constitution?” to prohibit affirmative action, Willborn said.

The law college’s admission policies, he said, are consistent with a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2003. In its decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, the high court banned the use of rigid formulas that award points based on race for admission to the University of Michigan’s undergraduate program and law school.

But the court permitted colleges to consider race as part of a “holistic review” of every application.

Willborn said considering race when admitting students is common at law colleges around the country.

University of Nebraska officials who oversee undergraduate admissions have said race is not considered when making decisions on which students to admit to the university’s four campuses.

Clegg said his group studied undergraduate admissions at the flagship campus, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and found there “was no statistically significant evidence of discrimination.”

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