Virginia Tech Reverses Decision on Affirmative Action
A month after the Black alumni of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, as well as others, expressed disapproval of the university’s board of visitors’ decision to bar the consideration of race and gender in campus admissions, hiring and financial aid processes, the board restored its affirmative action policy.
Despite assertions from the attorney general’s office that some of its diversity programs are unconstitutional, the school’s board of visitors voted 7-5 with one abstention to rescind a March 10 ban on preferences for racial minorities and other underrepresented groups in hiring, admissions and scholarships.
The vote came after a four-hour meeting punctuated by outbursts from a crowd of about 250 people, most supporters of affirmative action. The board called the special meeting after weeks of protest over its resolution in closed session to dismantle affirmative action (see Black Issues, April 10).
“We love diversity as much as you do,” Vice Rector William Latham said to a chorus of hissing from the crowd. “But we have to do it within the framework of the law, and you only have to do it politically.”
Several board members lamented that their earlier decision came too quickly, and that they should have waited for guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on affirmative action policies at the University of Michigan. Others said they changed their mind after realizing there were other interpretations of federal law that may allow the school to continue its diversity policies.
The university had reviewed its diversity program at the request of Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, who warned Virginia schools that race-conscious policies violate federal law.
Virginia Gov. Mark Warner said he was pleased the board would further study “ways to strike a reasonable balance in promoting diversity in University programs.”
Virginia Tech has struggled to bring Black students to its Blacksburg campus after enrolling the first Black student in 1953.
The student body is still only 6 percent Black, while Blacks make up about 20 percent of Virginia’s population.
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