National firm’s

A conservative, non-profit legal firm released two handbooks Tuesday detailing how to scrutinize affirmative action policies at colleges and universities across the nation.
The group, called the Center for Individual Rights, advertised the free handbooks in 15 college newspapers across the country.
One of the books, titled “The Rights of College Students,” states that “nearly every elite college in America violates the law” in matters of affirmative action. It accuses college admissions offices of having different standards for accepting white applicants and minority applicants.
The other handbook encourages colleges to avoid lawsuits by doing away with affirmative action.
“College and university trustees have a responsibility to make sure that their institutions comply with the Constitution and federal law,” the book states.
Terence J. Pell, the firm’s senior counsel who helped write the literature, said the group is trying to call attention to many universities’ affirmative action policies, most of which are illegal.
“All the evidence points in that direction,” Pell said. That evidence, he said, comes from lawsuits that the firm has argued and won where university administrators admitted to knowing about questionable affirmative action processes but did nothing to correct them.
“This is a trend to challenge higher education institutions on their affirmative action policies,” said Mark Rotenberg, the University’s general counsel. The handbooks are a deliberate, self-conscious strategy to change policies that have been in place for 30 years, he said.
The 39-page student handbook covers topics such as what schools cannot legally do and how to fill out Freedom of Information Act requests and interpret the information. Then, it says, a lawsuit can commence.
But the problem, Pell said, is not racial quotas. Although his handbook denounces such quotas, the real problem is implementing different sets of criteria for accepting whites and minorities. The handbooks accuse schools such as the University of Texas Law School of dividing the applicants by race and adding a certain number of points to LSAT scores of minorities. This is called “indexing.”
The Center for Individual Rights funded Hopwood v. Texas, which challenged this process.
Cheryl Hopwood sued the University of Texas Law School in 1992 because she was not admitted due to the “indexing” system.
University President Mark Yudof, who was dean of the Texas law school at the time of the suit, said he supported the indexing program. He said the affirmative action policy had already been in place for seven years when he arrived in 1984.
“We thought we were following the Supreme Court’s decision in (Regents of the University of California v.) Bakke,” Yudof said. In that 1978 case, the Supreme court ruled it was legal to consider an applicant’s race among other factors in the admissions process.
But in Hopwood v. Texas, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1996 that the school could not use race as a factor in admissions to create a diverse student body.
But the Supreme Court decided not to hear the Hopwood case, which limits the Hopwood decision strictly to the 5th circuit.
Yudof said the affirmative action admission program at the University is better defined and thought out.
Wayne Sigler, director of the Office of Admissions, said admission to the University is not based on race.
“Admission policies are developed to ensure that the best admission decisions are made,” Sigler said. “We are not trying to keep people out. We are trying to enhance retention and graduation.”
While the University’s admission policy is based on an index system — as Sigler called it — it is completely different than the Texas law school’s. The University’s system is based on a formula that includes high school courses, ACT or SAT scores and class rank.
If the applicant satisfies those criteria and makes the Dec. 15 deadline, he or she is automatically accepted. If the deadline is missed, the candidate goes through an individual review and is accepted “with respect to their potential for academic success at the University,” Sigler said.
The firm did not specify allegations against the University of Minnesota. Despite that, Rotenberg said that he is monitoring court decisions around the country and keeping Yudof and the Board of Regents abreast of changes.
“But certainly, the courts have become increasingly skeptical of these programs and a number of them have been shut down,” he said.