An Education in Affirmative Action

By Nelms, Rashad | Black Issues in Higher Education, September 3, 1999 | Go to article overview

An Education in Affirmative Action


Nelms, Rashad, Black Issues in Higher Education


Nearly three years have passed since the first of two controversial class-action lawsuits were brought against the University of Michigan. At issue are the admission's policies of the university's law school and its college of literature, science and arts.

Based on a grid, the university determines applicants' acceptance by weighing an array of factors -- including geography, special leadership or personal achievements, the quality of the applicant's high school, challenging nature of the students' curriculum choices, gradepoint average, as well as gender and race, among other things.

Ironically, the controversy centers not on the consideration of applicants' standardized test results, geography or whether they are the child, grandchild, sibling or spouse of a Michigan alumnus. Instead, it centers on just one factor in the grid - race.

To those not familiar with the University of Michigan, these lawsuits may be little more than a sound bite about the continuing saga surrounding affirmative action. But the suits have far broader ramifications, some of which already are being felt on campus.

Changes have occurred in the social climate here. There is a heightened awareness of the potential consequences, particularly in light of the minority enrollment decreases following the repeal of affirmative action at the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Texas.

Dialogue among students also has become more intense, richer, broader and deeper. Sentiments regularly can be read in the student newspaper, seen in student-directed television shows and heard in classroom and casual discussions.

Student protests in support of affirmative action, as well as teachins and symposiums, all have occurred during the past 12 months. While there is hardly a consensus, the important thing is that a civil and serious dialogue is occurring.

Further, the university has undertaken a more active role in supporting research that reinforces its position on the importance of diversity to the quality of education and interactions among students. The administration is to be commended for its staunch support of affirmative action in light of political criticism and the shift in national public opinion. …

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