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Affirmative action debate comes to campus

As the University of Michigan continues to defend itself in what some are calling the biggest affirmative action case in a decade, Mills and other schools across the nation are weighing in on the hotly debated issue.

The lawsuits against the University of Michigan’s Law School (Grutter v. Bollinger) and the undergraduate College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (Gratz v. Bollinger), challenge the universities policies that consider race in their admissions decisions. According to The San Francisco Chronicle, the Supreme Court’s decision about the case could bring about the most important statement on the use of racial preferences in a quarter-century.

The Center for Individual Rights, a non-profit law firm based in Washington DC, is filing the lawsuit on behalf of the three white plaintiffs.

They argue that Michigan’s race based admissions policies go against the 14th amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Andy Workman, Mills professor of history, believes that the law firms, who are backing the plaintiffs, are trying to eradicate affirmative action all together and because they have constitutional support, their argument is stronger than the University of Michigan’s.

“They want to completely eliminate what’s left of the affirmative action program at the federal state level,” Workman said.

“They are using the civil rights act of 1964, which says explicitly that you can’t use race to make decisions.”

The court’s possible ruling threatens to reverse the 1978 Supreme Court ruling in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. The ruling concluded that public universities could take race into account to create a diverse environment and that diversity is an educational benefit.

The University of Michigan admits that it does take race/ethnic considerations in their admissions procedures, and that it stands firmly behind them. They reject President Bush’s statement that they are upholding a quota system.

According to Lisa McRipley, director of student diversity, who completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan and is in the process of finishing her Ph.D. there as well, the case against the university was a hot topic a year ago when she worked there.

“The general feeling was mixed. But the overwhelming opinion is that students, faculty and staff support the University of Michigan in preserving race as a factor in admission. But there is a vocal minority that says its reverse discrimination,” she said.

University of Michigan’s undergraduate admissions as well as the law school program work very hard to ensure that there is a diversity of opinion on campus said McRipley. And supporters of the university whole-heartedly agree it is crucial to have diversity.

However, according to Workman, Michigan is a target because they don’t take the whole individual into account.

He said grades, test scores, and various other statistics about applicants are fed into a system where race has a really strong impact.

Minorities seeking admission to the undergrad College of Literature, Science and the Arts, automatically get a 20-point bonus on the 150 scale in determining eligibility.

“Bakke said you can’t have a quota, race can’t be the primary factor, and you can’t insulate racial minorities,” said Workman. “You can’t violate those things.”

University of Michigan’s point system, he said, violates the Bakke decision.

Despite the fact that the law firm has the support of the constitution, supporters of affirmative action say that in order to level the playing field for students, affirmative action is necessary.

On the Mills campus, the majority of students support University of Michigan’s affirmative action efforts.

“These three white people that are suing the University of Michigan feel that they are at a disadvantage because of their color, do they really believe that people of color are no longer at a disadvantage? They are crazy if they think racism is over,” said senior Claudia Pena.

Sophomore Riana Shaw agrees. “You can only say race doesn’t come into play when race doesn’t come into play into anything else in the world and that’s unrealistic,” she said.