ACE lauded at conference for stand on diversity – American Council on Education – includes related article on Dr. Reginald Wilson

San Francisco

Both Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley and
Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala praised the
American Council on Education (ACE) for its recent statement on the
need for diversity in higher education.

“I am very grateful and proud of the statement on diversity by ACE
and other higher education organizations. It was the right thing to say
and do,” Riley said to ACE members during their national conference in
San Francisco last month.

The ACE statement says a diverse student and faculty body are
integral to providing a quality education and that colleges and
universities need to be “able to reach out and make a conscious effort
to build healthy and diverse learning environments appropriate for
their missions.” It does not, however, specifically use the words
“affirmative action.” (For the complete ACE text and signatories, see
Black Issues, February 19).

When queried about this omission, Shalala said, “The words are
unimportant. What is important is taking a stand for the need for
diversity.”

Riley told the assembled college and university presidents and
other officials, “Your schools must clearly define your educational
missions and the importance of a diverse student body to that mission.
And then you must work to develop thoughtful and legally supportable
ways to achieve diversity.”

That idea was discussed again in more detail by two Department of
Education officials during small workshop sessions at the ACE
conference.

John R. Fry, the national affirmative action coordinator of the
Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Education, said that
colleges and universities need to have a clear definition of diversity
and how diversity helps them meet their educational goals.

“This is where higher education has to roll up their sleeves,” he
said, referring to the fact that there has been little research done to
document the educational benefits of a diverse student and faculty body.

“This research is not as well developed as it could be,” he said,
adding that the Harvard Diversity Project (see Black Issues, April 15,
1997), ACE, and the Department of Education are engaged in such
research.

Fry said that colleges and universities may be able to use race in
a flexible manner in admissions in those states where it is not
prohibited if the following conditions are met:

* The college or university has a clear statement as to the educational benefits of diversity.

* The institution uses the same admissions standards for all students.

* It reviews its processes annually to make sure the use of race continues to be necessary.

* It has tried or considered using race-neutral methods to meet goals.

* The use of race doesn’t burden White students unncessarily.

Fry’s comments were echoed in another seminar by Arthur L. Coleman,
deputy assistant secretary of the Office for Civil Rights. Coleman said
that colleges and universities are presumed to have, under law, the
freedom to admit students on academic grounds. If they think that
diversity is important educationally, therefore, they need to clearly
establish that.

“Fundamentally, it centers on educational validity,” said Coleman,
“Educational soundness is the heat of the legal standards,” he said
later.

Fry and Coleman were grappling with the confusion that has gripped
higher education since both California’s Proposition 209 banned the use
of race in all state transactions, including college and university
admissions, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the
Hopwood v. the State of Texas banned the use of race in admissions in
Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Although the rest of the country is not bound by Hopwood, many
states have moved toward compliance with it. The University of
Michigan, which has an extensive affirmative action plan, has been sued
by the same law firm that sued the University of Texas in the Hopwood
case. (For the latest on the Michigan case, see story, page 20)

Albert Kauffman, the regional counsel for the Mexican American
Legal Defense and Education Fund, agreed with Fry and Kauffman that any
admissions process that relies on separate admissions processes for
students of color is completely impermissible under law.

Kauffman, who represents an organization that has sued the state of
Texas for its segregated higher education system, said that the Hopwood
case — which centered on admissions to the University of Texas-Austin
law school — was a classic case of “bad facts make bad law,”

The law school had separate admissions processes for African
American and Latino students. By the time the case was filed, the
school had changed its admissions process, but that did not change the
course of the case.

“They even had different colored folders,” Kauffman said. “You
would expect a law school to read cases, [but they] violated all the
laws.”

Kauffman urged college and university officials not to have any set formulas.

“When you say in your admissions policy that if a person makes a
high score they will be admitted, you have set yourself up for a
lawsuit.”

Kauffman said that an admissions process should evaluate each
student application individually against a number of factors that can
include grades and test scores, but should also include a range of
other factors — including socioeconomic status, bilingual proficiency,
whether a student is a first-generation college student, and from what
area of the state or country the student comes.

Kauffman said that colleges and universities that permit
Proposition 209 and Hopwood to convince them not to pursue diversity
should look out.

“If the other side scares you to death, we will sue you,” he warned. “We’re much better lawyers than they are.”

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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