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Education Department Highlights ‘Race-Neutral’ Admissions Initiatives

Education Department Highlights ‘Race-Neutral’ Admissions Initiatives
Americans should not look to achieve diversity through affirmative action, secretary says
By Charles Dervarics

Americans should not look to achieve diversity through affirmative action and other “shortcuts that divide us by race,” says U.S. Education Secretary Roderick Paige as he mounts a new Bush administration campaign to showcase ‘race-neutral’ approaches to diversity.

With the U.S. Supreme Court taking its long-awaited look at affirmative action in college admissions, Paige outlined his views in a speech before Hispanic educators and in comments at the release of a report touting alternatives that he says can reach the same objective of diversity.

The administration’s campaign — taking shape as the high court reviews the University of Michigan affirmative action cases — includes a new study on race-neutral initiatives, as well as an upcoming national conference to showcase alternative programs. As the court prepared to hear April 1 arguments, Paige — the first African American secretary of education — left no doubt of his views on the issue.

Policy “shortcuts” such as affirmative action “betray the nation’s fundamental principles,” the secretary said.

The Bush administration also criticized affirmative action in its arguments in the two Supreme Court cases, which involve the University of Michigan law school and undergraduate school. Conservatives are critical of both programs, particularly the undergraduate policy in which Michigan can award 20 additional points to applicants based on race.

Instead of affirmative action, the administration says, colleges and the nation can promote diversity through various means such as:

• Preferences based on income rather than race;

• Stronger recruitment efforts to additional high schools;

• Support for advanced placement and other initiatives at low-performing high schools; and

• The ‘percent’ plans of Texas, California and Florida, in which the state offers college admission to students who finish within a top percentage of their high-school classes.

“Make no mistake that it will take time, creativity and constant attention to pursue race-neutral policies,” Paige said. Yet he said the nation needs to confront the issue “head on” rather than promote policies that divide people by race.

But affirmative action proponents question some of these alternatives, particularly the ‘percent’ plans. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has questioned their effectiveness, and a new report from Americans for Fair Chance, a coalition of civil rights groups, finds such programs ineffective.

In California, about 22,000 Hispanic students and 7,000 African American students were turned away who might have qualified under the state’s earlier affirmative action admissions policy. “The administration’s support of these so-called ‘race-neutral’ approaches is clearly mistaken,” says Shirley Wilcher, executive director of Americans for a Fair Chance.

Under the California percent policy, students who finish in the top 4 percent of their high-school classes are deemed eligible for admission to the University of California system. In Texas, the top 10 percent of each high-school class can gain admission to the University of Texas system.

The plans also came under criticism from Congressional Black Caucus members during hearings and town hall meetings in Texas just before the April 1 court arguments.

More than 100 universities and higher education organizations have filed briefs in the Supreme Court cases, along with 63 multinational companies, former U.S. military leaders, civil rights groups and labor organizations. “It is an unprecedented flood that speaks volumes about the importance and the far-reaching impact of this upcoming decision,” said Dr. Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan.

The Education Department will examine ‘race-neutral’ admissions alternatives at a national conference to be held April 28-29 in Miami.

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