An Open Letter To President Bush on Affirmative Action

Hugh B. Price


National Urban League

December 3, 2002

President George W. Bush
The White House

Dear President Bush:

Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would review two University of Michigan cases challenging the constitutionality of institutions of higher learning including race as one among many factors in admissions decisions.

I write to implore you to stand with those of us who fervently believe in opportunity and inclusion. More specifically, I urge you to instruct the Justice Department and the Solicitor General to stand by the U.S. Supreme Court's Bakke decision, in which the Court ruled it permissible under the Constitution for colleges and universities to consider race as one among many factors, not just to combat discrimination, but as a way to promote diversity. The admissions procedures crafted by the University of Michigan and its law school follow that requirement.

The University of Michigan does not use quotas or set-asides, nor does it admit applicants who aren't qualified and can't handle the academic work there. Indeed, it's noteworthy that 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.

Bakke has been the law of the land for a quarter century. It has served America well in expanding opportunity and will continue to do so in the years ahead. 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 it doesn't exist at colleges and universities with roughly as many openings as they have applicants. Instead, the debate is about what happens at highly selective institutions that have many more qualified applicants than openings, and thus, a competitive admissions process.

The University of California at Berkeley and UCLA, and the University of Texas at Austin, the flagship campuses of their respective states, have suffered sharp reductions in the enrollment of minorities because race and ethnicity can no longer be considered in admissions decisions. Minority applicants, those student bodies at large, the institutions themselves, the states where they are located and society at large are all losers as a result of diminished inclusion and diversity on those campuses.

America's evolving and inexorable demographic change provides all the moral and economic rationale we need to view inclusion as a compelling public interest; and admissions policies like those at the University of Michigan and its law school have clearly contributed to advancing the preparation and productivity of minorities. The proof of impact is found in the dramatically changed ethnic composition of college campuses and corporate workplaces.

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, to 1.2 million, in the number of African-American undergraduates at such schools. Similarly, America's white-collar labor market is vastly more integrated today than it was four decades ago.

These education and employment gains help explain the marked growth in the black middle class—an expansion overwhelmingly fueled by the offspring of working class and low-income families. Their rise stems from the potent combination of their own individual drive for achievement and the determination of universities and employers to tap this great pool of talent utilizing admissions policies like those at the University of Michigan.

Affirmative action is needed because America's economy (and the maintenance of Social Security, Medicare and private-pension benefits of aging baby boomers) will increasingly be borne by minority workers, entrepreneurs, taxpayers and customers; and because its civic life will depend increasingly on a literate and engaged populace of color who are well equipped to exercise the ballot and meet the obligations of citizenship.

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 is the essence of a compelling public interest.

Universities that practice constitutionally permissible forms of affirmative action adhere to none of the practices — like quotas, set-asides and acceptance of the unqualified — that opponents of affirmative action find objectionable. That is why the principles governing admissions policies like those at Michigan deserve your enthusiastic support and should be upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now more than ever, strengthening America's commitment to inclusion will determine whether it will continue to maintain the most robustly diverse, yet cohesive democracy in the history of humankind. That mission can't be left entirely to chance. Common sense dictates that we keep the doors of higher education wide open for promising young African Americans and Latino Americans.

Thank you, Mr. President, for your consideration.

Best wishes,


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