Eyes Wide Shut

For the Bush administration and Supreme Court,
an example of the need for affirmative action
is right in front of them

by Tom Teepen, Cox News Service

A debate is said to be under way in the White House about whether the Bush administration should jump into the affirmative-action case that the Supreme Court will take up next year and, if so, on which side. At issue is the University of Michigan’s use of race as a criterion for admission.

That there is a discussion within this administration is encouraging—and more than a little surprising.

Affirmative action was established and long sustained with strong bi-partisan support; but, as with many consensus policies, Republican sup- port has faded in recent years as the GOP has become ever more conservative. Opposition is a given, especially in the very rightward circles the Bush administration frequents.

Affirmative action is said in those quarters to be an affront to the color- blind society that the same quarters, denying the plain evidence, insist we have now become.

Michigan and other universities argue, sensibly, that counting race is legitimate and necessaryin assembling the socially diverse student body that is crucial for an effective educational environment. After all, once students have cleared the qualifying threshold in test scores, admissions officers routinely calculate a variety of factors in making the final cut, including geography, family background, extracurricular activities, and alumni parents. They don’t just work mindlessly down the test-score list and quit when all openings have been filled.

How bizarre it would be if race were singled out as the one factor the schools may not take into account in putting together a rounded campus community, thus perpetuating for still another generation the only distinction among us that, for the whole of our history, has been enforced by law, prejudice, violence, and custom.

For evidence that diversity is an essential learning tool, the president—and when it comes to their deliberations, the justices—could profitably recall the pivotal role played by Associate Justice Clarence Thomas in a recent case. Most justices seemed to be listening sympathetically to arguments that criminalizing cross-burning violates free speech until Thomas, making a rare utterance, forcefully explained how cross-burnings—unlike, for instance, flag-burnings—have had the sole purpose of intimidating black people. They make no point; they’re acts of terrorism.

Thomas’s words were blunt, moving, dead-on, and it became clear from their subsequent questions that the other justices’ frame of reference had been changed by them. Ironically, although he owes his position to affirmative action, Thomas is a foe of the practice. But had he not been on the court and able to bring his particular experience to bear, the other justices would have been denied insights that are essential to understanding the issue in real-world, rather than abstract, terms.

The Bush administration could help the justices see that universities should not be forbidden access to the same enlightenment.

Reprinted with permission.

January 28, 2003

Eyes Wide Shut
A column by Tom Teepen (Cox News Service) about the benefits of affirmative action in college admissions.

Payne Gallery exhibit
Closely Watched Trains
Czech Holocaust film to be shown at Moravian.
And All That Jazz
James McBride to read from his books and play with outstanding jazz ensemble.
Datebook
Campus calendar of events.
Gaudeamus
Faculty/staff/student achievements.