An Open Letter To President Bush

Hugh B. Price


National Urban League

President George W. Bush
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Bush:

On Tuesday of this week, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that the University of Michigan Law School can consider race as one of many factors in its admissions decisions in order to produce a diverse and inclusive student body.

This case, and others wending their way through the federal court, will likely end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, which will be asked to definitively rule whether institutions of higher learning can weigh race in admissions decisions.

As you know, there are conflicting rulings in the lower courts. Mr. President, I urge you to stand with those of us who fervently believe in opportunity and inclusion and instruct the Justice Department and the Solicitor General to endorse the principles and approach utilized by Michigan's law school.

Affirmative action is both a philosophy of inclusion and a set of tools for accomplishing that objective. It's important to remind ourselves that the philosophical and constitutional debate over whether ethnicity should be considered in admissions decisions doesn't affect the vast majority of colleges and universities-those that have roughly as many openings as they have applicants.

Rather, the controversy concerns that far smaller group of highly selective institutions that get many more qualified applicants than they have openings for, and thus, must determine which factors to weigh in deciding whom to admit.

The University of California flagship campuses at Berkeley and Los Angeles, and the University of Texas campus at Austin, where race no longer can be considered in admissions, have suffered sharp reductions in the enrollment of minorities. Minority applicants, those larger student bodies, the institutions themselves, the states where they are located and society at large are all losers as a result.

In the Bakke case of 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that colleges and universities can consider race as one among many factors in admissions.

Given the inexorable demographic change underway in America, promoting inclusion remains a compelling state interest that justifies using race along with other factors in allocating educational opportunity among those who are qualified. Admissions policies like that at Michigan's law school clearly have contributed to advancing the preparation and productivity of minorities.

There's simply no denying the striking progress that minorities made over the past generation in entering the American mainstream since the advent of affirmative action.

Back in 1961, 134,000 black students attended predominantly white colleges and universities around the country. Since then there's been an almost ten-fold increase in the number of African-American undergraduates at such schools.

Much the same is true of the white-collar labor market. The work force of every Fortune 500 corporation is vastly more integrated today than it was in 1954, the year of the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision outlawing school segregation. Blacks in big corporations back then seldom rose above secretary or messenger.

These educational and employment gains help explain the marked growth in the black middle class since 1960. These families obviously didn't come from the miniscule black upper class. They climbed up from more modest circumstances not only because of their own individual drive but also because universities and employers opened their doors to include them utilizing admissions policies like the one at the University of Michigan Law School.

In years to come America's economic and civic life will depend increasingly on a literate and engaged populace of color who are well equipped to exercise all the obligations of citizenship. It's axiomatic that the better educated these future citizens are, the more robust our economy, the more harmonious our society and the more secure the entire population will be. This goal is the essence of a compelling public interest.

The University of Michigan Law School does not use quotas or set-asides. Nor does it admit applicants who aren't qualified. In fact, the law school admits a smaller percentage of black applicants than the proportion of blacks in the U.S. population, and rejects a higher percentage of African-American applicants than white applicants.

Inclusion is too vital to America's future to be left entirely to chance. Common sense dictates that we keep the doors of higher education wide open for promising young African Americans and Latinos. As A. Bartlett Giamatti, the late president of Yale University and Commissioner of Major League Baseball, once put it so compellingly, universities should be tributaries to society, not sanctuaries from it.

Thank you, Mr. President, for your consideration.

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