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Wolverine Diversity…The President Earns An F In Diversity

Wolverine Diversity

By George F. Will

January 26, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Washington Post Company. All rights reserved.

It is really a misunderstanding. Out in Ann Arbor -- which is the Athens of the Midwest, if it does say so itself, and it does -- the large-hearted and progressive-minded University of Michigan insists that its undergraduate and law school admissions policies do not involve racial preferences. Heaven forfend. The policies are diversity preferences.

Granted, African American, Hispanic and Native American undergraduate applicants get 20 points added to their scores (150 is the maximum possible) just for being members of their groups. And although the law school has a different way of weighting race, applicants from those three groups are much more likely to be admitted than other applicants with comparable academic credentials. However, the university says rewarding certain favored races and ethnic groups is just a means of promoting diversity.

Because the university is an institution of higher learning, its focus is on minds. Therefore the "diversity" it wants -- the law school speaks of diversity of "perspective" -- is presumably diversity of thinking. Or, considering that applicants are young and intellectually unformed, perhaps just diversity of experiences and outlooks.

In any case, the university's assumption appears to be that race or ethnicity is a reliable predictor of a person's inner landscape -- of his or her mental makeup. This assumption might seem to involve the sin of racial and ethnic stereotyping, or even the scarlet sin of profiling. However, it obviously cannot involve either, because the university is famously progressive, and hence abhors both sins.

Furthermore, the university is liberal and hence surely on the cutting edge of Michigan postmodernism. So it probably more or less believes that all ideas are equally worthy, or unworthy. Whatever. And the university's focus on African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans indicates a special interest in groups that have been discriminated against in higher education and that (unlike, say, Jews and Asians) have not surmounted past discrimination to become well-represented in higher education. Proportional representation, that is the goal.

Now, given the university's insistence that its preferences are about not race but diversity, and given the fact that the only pertinent diversity in a university is diversity of thought, and given the fact that the university fancies itself exquisitely concerned with the excluded, therefore: Its admissions policies should include preferential treatment for conservatives.

In Ann Arbor, which voted for George McGovern in 1972 and Walter Mondale in 1984, when each was losing 49 states, conservatives are scarce. This must grieve the university, which craves diversity and surely resents the accusation that academic institutions favor diversity in everything but thought. So here is a modest proposal.

The university should promote diversity of thought by asking all applicants the following 15 questions, awarding each applicant 10 points for each diversity-enhancing answer (150 points being a perfect Diversity Quotient):

    1. The Supreme Court's principal function is (a) to wield the Constitution as a living document to right all wrongs or (b) to protect the Second Amendment.

    2. Do you wish to enroll in UM's ROTC program?

    3. U.S. policy toward Iraq should be: (a) give peace a chance or (b) pave it.

    4. The UM Wolverines' athletic budget ($54 million) (a) is too small or (b) should be contributed to Greenpeace.

    5. True or False: Ohio State is part of the axis of evil.

    6. Were you home-schooled?

    7. Do you watch Fox News Channel?

    8. America's coolest anchorman is (a) Tom Brokaw, (b) Dan Rather, (c) Peter Jennings or (d) Brit Hume.

    9. Do you read National Review while listening to Rush Limbaugh?

    10. Can you tell the difference between the New York Times front page and its editorial page?

    11. The most socially beneficial development in America in the last three decades was (a) Roe v. Wade, (b) the University of Michigan speech code or (c) ESPN.

    12. America's worst failing is (a) racism, (b) sexism, (c) inequality, (d) imperialism or (e) respect for the United Nations.

    13. Given a choice, would you own (a) an environmentally friendly hybrid car or (b) a Ford F-150 pickup?

    14. Who is the more plausible president: (a) Martin Sheen of "The West Wing," (b) John Edwards of North Carolina or (c) any of the Dixie Chicks?

    15. The Miller Lite ad in which the "tastes great" woman and the "less filling" woman duke it out in a bodice-ripping cat fight is (a) fascistic phallocentrism or (b) a hoot.

Dear applicant, if your answers optimize your Diversity Quotient (b, yes, b, a, true, yes, yes, who are those first three guys?, yes, you're kidding -- right?, c, e, b, c, b), well, then: Welcome to Ann Arbor, you wonderful addition to Wolverine diversity.

The President Earns An F In Diversity


January 23, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Boston Globe. All rights reserved.

If I were a university admissions official and George W. Bush were an applicant submitting an essay on affirmative action, I would toss his application.

• Bush was too lazy and inattentive to correct a wrong word. Bush's statement, as did his audible voice, referred to ''perspective'' students at the University of Michigan. The right word is prospective.

• Bush attempted to slide past a challenge with a classic lazy mind's phrase. The admissions policies at the university's undergraduate and law school branches, he said, ''amount to a quota system.'' In places that value standards as a teaching tool, nothing ''amounts to'' anything. The admissions procedure either is or is not a quota system. Worse, he tried to slide by the problem precisely because the policies in question are not quotas.

• Bush's statement is dishonest and sneaky because it does not confront the important question at issue -- whether race can be used as a factor in university admissions and, if so, how.

On the one hand, he declared that ''we should not be satisfied with the current numbers of minorities on American campuses.'' But he failed to explain how to attack this dissatisfaction without being specifically aware of it.

The task of taking a formal position was left to the administration's solicitor general, Ted Olson, a famously conservative opponent of any affirmative action. Late Thursday evening, his briefs attacking the two university policies were filed just ahead of the Supreme Court's deadline. Lo and behold, the doctrinaire Olson was forced to fudge the key issue as well.

I will never forget another deadline 25 years ago, when I covered the court's famous decision in the case of Allan Bakke, the angry white male denied admission to a University of California medical school. The court was deeply divided; there were multiple opinions; what they had decided was not immediately clear.

Gradually, after multiple readings, it dawned on me that you could construct a majority around the concept articulated by Justice Lewis Powell, a meticulous lawyer -- Bakke was ordered admitted, but affirmative action was also sustained as long as race was in effect ''a'' factor in the process but not ''the'' factor. The word Powell chose made race an acceptable ``plus.''

The United States went on to deal with race and diversity in a varied manner, and affirmative action that doesn't come close to quotas has been a key factor in the success, especially at the most selective, application-deluged institutions. Political times change, though, and the conservative attack has never abated.

When the court accepted the two cases last year, it was assumed (accurately) that the Bakke decision as defined by Powell was being revisited.

For political and policy reasons, however, Bush is attempting to stand alone in dodging the issue. Olson's briefs in part seems to argue that because there are other, allegedly ''race neutral'' means of achieving racial diversity, the Michigan procedures should be tossed. The argument is not worthy of his sharp mind.

Worse, to avoid facing the Bakke decision, Bush has claimed what is disproved by the facts -- that the two schools' policies are actually quotas. The president falsely claimed admission on a point system for undergraduates ''often'' uses race as ``the decisive factor.''

Baloney. As university President Mary Sue Coleman patiently points out, 110 out of the 150 available points (you get in with 100) are awarded for purely academic achievement. Michigan is not a huge fan of SAT scores (12 points), but it likes good grades (up to 80 points). Nonwhite applicants get 20 points, but so does any applicant from a severely disadvantaged community (though you get only one of those 20-point ``pluses''). In addition, applicants from the low-income, largely white Upper Peninsula get 16 points.

Bush also falsely said that the law school's system is designed ''to meet percentage targets.'' The highly individualized process in fact works off an unfixed goal of achieving a ''critical mass'' of nonwhites. School officials point out that the number of admitted nonwhites varies year to year about as much as the number of people admitted from California.

One size should not fit all. Bush's favorite concept from Texas that automatically accepts kids from varied top percentages of their high school class has demonstrated real potential. However, this supposed neutrality is less helpful for some places than others and is based on still-segregated housing patterns.

In all, it was a shoddy performance by an over-politicized White House. The charitable thing to do with Bush is gently suggest that he needs a little tutoring and should reapply next year.

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