Coalition Challenges Virginia Tech Ban on Affirmative Action

Coalition Challenges Virginia Tech Ban on Affirmative Action

BLACKSBURG, Va.

Black alumni of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) were joined by Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and others last month in expressing disapproval of the university’s board of visitors decision to bar the consideration of race and gender in the campus admissions, hiring and financial aid processes.

“The Black alumni are outraged that on the eve of the 50th anniversary celebration of the first Black student at Virginia Tech, the board of visitors passed a resolution intending to take Virginia Tech back to the antiquated policies, practices and thinking of the past,” alumni said in a prepared statement.

Brian Roberts, a lawyer and spokesman for the Virginia Tech Black Alumni Network (VTBAN), says the March 10 decision by the board of visitors to adopt a race-neutral admissions policy was motivated by politics.

“If the board were really concerned with eliminating preferences, then they would have included the most glaring preferences based on legacy, athletic ability and the ability of parents to contribute financially to the university,” Roberts says.

The alumni group went on to demand that the board “rescind their resolutions to discontinue programs that promote and support diversity.”

Basil Gooden, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter that includes Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus, called on the university to “justify all the factors considered in the admissions process, including legacies, geography, donations from parents and extracurricular activities.”

In addition to barring the consideration of race in campus decisions, the board also removed from the university’s anti-discrimination clause any reference to discrimination based on sexual orientation. On the same day, the board passed another resolution requiring that student groups get the president’s approval if they wish to invite or sponsor speakers who can be construed as supporting or taking part in “domestic violence or terrorism.” The Black alumni characterized that decision as a violation of students’ constitutional right to free speech.

Board members are reported to have
approved the two resolutions in a closed-door meeting without discussion minutes and without public discussion or advance notice, a move that particularly disturbed Gov. Warner.

“I am concerned that the Virginia Tech board opted to make such a fundamental change in university admissions and employment policies without advance public notice or, in my view, adequate public discussion,” he said. Warner added that he doesn’t understand why the board felt it needed to act only weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in the subject.

“I see no reason why any Board member at any Virginia college or university should feel compelled to act on these issues until we receive more definitive guidance from the Supreme Court,” he said.

In a statement released to the university community, Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger attempted to put the board of visitors’ actions into context: “In November, we learned that all members of boards of visitors were advised that they might face personal legal liability if they allowed actions to continue that did not meet a strict legal test. In this environment, the board of visitors at Virginia Tech took steps in December to assert its intention to abide by all state and federal laws relevant to race-based programs and non-discrimination and to abide by legal opinions or advice issued by the office of the attorney general. The university administration was asked to collect information on any race-conscious programs and provide that information directly to the attorney general’s office for review.

“We expected that the review by the attorney general and the decision issued by the Supreme Court would provide the basis for developing a comprehensive and consistent set of guidelines appropriate for all institutions of higher learning in Virginia. However, the board of visitors, after receiving further guidance from the office of the attorney general, decided to adopt a resolution that lays out explicit guidelines that define the federally and state mandated non-discrimination categories and restricts any use of these categories to provide preferences in admissions, financial aid and hiring practices unless explicitly covered by other laws or regulations.”

Steger went on to say that despite the board’s action, the university remains committed to the pursuit of diversity on its
campus.

Copies of the board of visitors’ resolution, and the full text of Steger’s statement can be found on the university Web site at and

Warner’s remarks can be found online at Releases/2003/Mar03/0313.htm>



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