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National CrossTalk
Spring 1999 National Center for Public Policy & Higher Education
News Editorial Other Voices Interview

In the Cross Hairs
States wrestle with affirmative action policies

Texas and California struggle with admissions formulas, while a national legal debate continues over whether they and other states should continue or impose bans on race-related affirmative action.

In March, the University of California Board of Regents approved a milder version of the Texas plan (see main article), starting in the fall of 2001, to admit graduating seniors ranked among the top four percent in grade point averages at their respective high schools. All must take 11 of 15 courses required by the university before the end of their junior year.

These changes will not ease the pressure for admission at UC Berkeley, which last year turned away 7,200 students with grade point averages of 4.0 or higher, including 500 African American and Hispanic applicants. Unlike the Texas program, the four percent in California will not be guaranteed admission to a specific UC campus. Officials estimate the four percent rule will bring in an additional 3,600 students, of whom 716 will be Hispanic and 161 African American.

Meanwhile, an alumnus of Berkeley's Boalt law school has sued the university, claiming that it illegally encouraged the alumni association (partly financed with state funds) to raise private funds to sponsor scholarships for minority students. The ban on race-related affirmative action has continued to take a toll at Boalt: In 1996, before the ban took effect, 75 African Americans were admitted; last fall the number dropped to 32.

Undergraduate enrollment at Berkeley was first affected by the ban last fall, when the number of African American students enrolled as freshmen dropped to 98, compared with 260 the prior year. The number of Hispanic students decreased from 492 to 264.

Affirmative action involving racial and gender preferences was banned in California after voter approval of a state proposition in 1996, which the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a year later. The Hopwood ruling in Texas banned affirmative action effective in the fall of 1997.

In other cases scheduled for trial or hearings later this year, Anglo students contend they were denied admission to the University of Michigan's undergraduate and law school programs because of double standards favoring minorities in rating test scores and grades. The university asserts that race is only one among a number of factors taken into account in its admissions. The Michigan campus at Ann Arbor has room for about two thirds of eligible freshman applicants.

Beginning next fall, the University of Washington will abandon race as a factor in admissions, following voter approval of a state initiative last November banning race-conscious affirmative action. However, a federal court has rejected a suit by a white student who was denied admission in 1994 by the UW law school. The student alleged that, as in the Michigan case, the university had used different standards for white and minority applicants. The case is being appealed.

African American applications for admission to the UW law school have dropped 41 percent, and Hispanic applications are down 21 percent, officials reported. Last fall, UW's freshman enrollment totaled about three percent African American and four percent Hispanic. It has been admitting about two thirds of all qualified applicants.

Ward Connerly, a University of California regent who led the successful 1996 effort to ban affirmative action in California via a ballot initiative, said he is involved in preliminary planning to have voters consider the same issue in Florida and Michigan.

Leading state officials in Florida, including Governor Jeb Bush, have publicly disapproved of such an initiative there, but Connerly said in an interview that there is active support to put the question on the Florida ballot in November 2000.

Several proponents, including state senators, are actively involved in Michigan, and Connerly said he and others of like mind were considering similar possibilities in Oregon, Colorado and Nebraska.

In Maryland, a student filed suit last May contending that the University of Maryland medical school discriminates against white applicants by "maintaining drastically lower standards for the admission of members of certain favored minority groups, especially blacks."

In Oklahoma, a white male at the University of Tulsa sued last October, contending that a scholarship program sets different test score requirements for members of different racial groups and for men and women.

-- Carl Irving


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