Federal Judge Rules That Georgia has No Compelling Interest in Promoting Diversity
A federal district judge ruled late last month that three White female applicants denied admission to the University of Georgia in 1999 should be offered admission to the institution this fall, effectively ending the university’s policy of giving special consideration to minority applicants.
In his ruling, Judge Avant Edenfield says the university’s 1999 admissions process violated Title VI and Title IX by intentionally discriminating against the women based on race and gender. He rejected the university’s arguments that promoting diversity in higher education is of compelling state interest.
“To base racial preferences upon an amorphous, unquantifiable and temporarily unlimited goal is to engage in naked racial balancing,” wrote Edenfield, who not only ordered the university to offer the women admission but also to compensate them for having to pay more money to attend other schools.
“This is yet another step in what promises to be a long process,” says the university’s president, Dr. Michael F. Adams. “We respect the court and we want UGA admissions to comply with federal law.”
But Adams maintains that diversity is still a priority for the 30,000-student institution.
“We also want to be as aggressive as possible within the law in attracting people of all races and background to the University of Georgia,” Adams says. “We need to spend some time consulting with legal counsel before making a final determination regarding appeal of this ruling and its impact on admissions policy for the class entering in fall 2001.”
“We are disappointed in this order from Judge Edenfield,” University System of Georgia Chancellor Dr. Stephen R. Portch says. “Currently, we are seeking legal advice from the Attorney General’s office on our options. At the same time, we are maintaining, steadfastly, our focus on the university system’s key mission — which is to guarantee access for all of this state’s citizens to public higher education.”
About 90 percent of students are admitted to the University of Georgia solely on academic criteria — grades and test scores. The other 10 percent are selected based on scores plus a variety of other factors, such as race, legacy, geographic location, extracurricular activity and hometown school. At one point, that list included gender, says university spokesman Matt Winston, but preferences are no longer given to male applicants.
In September, Adams said the school would continue to use race-based preferences in an effort to remain representative of the total state population.
When the university dropped gender from its considerations, the move gave a degree of preference to male students applying for the fall 2000 entering class. The admissions criteria are reviewed annually by the admissions office, the Faculty Admissions Committee of the University Council and the university president.
Some critics argue that using legacy as one of the admissions factors offsets the use of race as another. They say legacy admissions are affirmative action for White people because the majority of alumni are White. The school was integrated in 1961.
Two new factors were used this year in the final round of decision-making to help boost students from economically disadvantaged counties or who performed well academically but attended low-performing Georgia public high schools, Winston says.
The court ruling could affect the university’s goal of increasing diversity, he says. The institution just has to determine the next step.
“I’m sure there will be a next step. We know we’re doing the right thing. We have to figure out a way to do it that won’t cause a legal uproar,” Winston says. “Our supporters say, ‘you’ve got to keep up the effort.’
“We’re trying to create a university community that provides the best education and exposure to different genders and cultures,” he says.
About 50 percent of the university’s students come from Atlanta suburbs. African Americans make up 6 percent of the undergraduate population.
“The ideal goal is to have our population reflect the state of Georgia. This is the state’s flagship institution,” Winston says. “The judge’s ruling questions our goal of achieving a diverse population. He has forced us to re-evaluate and make some decisions. How do you diversify if you can’t use race? That’s our challenge.”
Meanwhile, the latest statistics released from the University System of Georgia show that the percentage of Blacks in the total student population is shrinking from what it was five years ago.
While UGA’s Black student population fell only slightly in the five years from 1994 to 1999, the Medical College of Georgia had 6.6 percent more Black students 15 years ago than it did last fall. Georgia Tech was at 8.5 percent last fall, also down slightly from 1994.
Some of the biggest increases in Black enrollment have come at Georgia State and Georgia Southern universities, where more than a quarter of the students are Black; and at Clayton College and State University, where more than a third are Black.
Blacks make up more than 27 percent of the state population.
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