Not Your Average Affirmative Action Program
The decision of the U. S. Supreme Court in Bakke v. Board of Regents recognizes diversity in higher education as a compelling interest that will permit a public university to consider race as a factor in a competitive admissions process. Opponents of affirmative action programs in higher education have mounted legal attacks in Maryland, Texas, Washington, Michigan, Alabama and Georgia in a determined national effort to limit or overturn Bakke. Presently, neither supporters nor opponents of traditional race-conscious affirmative action programs can predict with certainty when or if the Supreme Court will accept a case for review involving the use of race in higher education or whether the Court will affirm, modify or overturn Bakke. Therefore, it is clear that supporters of governmental efforts to address the practice or lingering effects of racial discrimination must contemplate the development of diversity initiatives that do not place all of the eggs in a race-based basket.
The law is clear. Race is a suspect classification and will be subjected to strict scrutiny by the courts when challenged by a disgruntled individual. Strict scrutiny requires a university using race as a factor in admissions to: (1) establish a compelling interest and (2) show that the use of race was narrowly tailored. Opponents of affirmative action have used strict scrutiny to force universities to spend valuable resources defending differences between individuals that not only do not make a difference but are routinely ignored — in the absence of an effort to promote diversity. Historically Black colleges and universities are open to all individuals without regard to race. Therefore, an affirmative action program based upon institutional linkages between predominately White public universities and HBCUs allows a predominately White public university interested in diversity to act without relying upon race and triggering the application of strict scrutiny.
The George Washington Carver Project is a special recruitment initiative of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. The project is specifically designed to increase the number of African Americans enrolled as graduate and professional students. It is distinguishable from many traditional affirmative action programs because it is based upon institutional linkages between the University of Arkansas and HBCUs as opposed to the race of individuals.
The Carver Project uses paid summer internships to establish the institutional relationships between the university and participating HBCUs. Above average HBCU students who have completed a minimum of 60 hours of coursework are assigned in small groups to university faculty members. Internships last from five to 10 weeks and may take the form of research projects or traditional upper-level coursework. Students who successfully complete the internships are aggressively recruited for advanced study upon graduation from the participating HBCU. More than 90 percent of the interns have pursued advanced study at the University of Arkansas and have encouraged friends to do likewise. In 1995, Black students accounted for only 33 of the graduate and professional students enrolled at the university. The institutional linkages established through the Carver Project between the University of Arkansas and Southern University, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Tougaloo College, Jackson State University, Alcorn State University, Xavier University and Dillard University have played a major role in increasing the number of Black graduate and professional students to more than 160 in 2001.
Programs based on institutional linkages do not address all of the thorny legal and political issues raised in the current affirmative action debate. These programs do, however, provide students at participating HBCUs with the opportunity to investigate advanced degree study unencumbered by many of the legal and political issues surrounding race-conscious programs.
— Willyerd R. Collier Sr., is the director of affirmative action at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
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