U-Georgia affirmative action halted

Latasha Webb

With the nation still torn over affirmative action, a recent federal court decision shifts the battlefront to the places many consider most liberal in such practices – college campuses.

But on Aug. 27, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled affirmative action admission policies at the University of Georgia were unconstitutional.

University junior Amy Cooper defended affirmative action and said that without it she might not have received as many positive opportunities as she has in the past few years.

As a white female she said she knows about gender discrimination and believes affirmative action has forced employers who would have passed her over otherwise to take a second look.

“It’s for everyone’s benefit,” Cooper said. “White males who marry a woman benefit because it’s giving her a chance. And it helps us build a better economy and prosper more in business.”

But the federal court said the University of Georgia went too far.

The university gave minority students bonus points, which the court said allowed them to “be admitted or advance further in the process at the expense of white applicants.”

Applying its strictest constitutionality test, the court declined to decide whether student body diversity is a “compelling interest” that justifies considering race in admissions.

Instead, the court found the university’s program was not “narrowly tailored” to achieve its goals and thus violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

Several institutions across the country including universities in Georgia, Texas, Washington, California and Michigan have all faced lawsuits over their affirmative action admission policies in recent years.

The schools’ policies differed from one another, ranging from quotas to admitting almost every qualified minority and some qualified whites.

But the recent trend of students suing schools doesn’t scare officials at the University.

“We’re absolutely confident that we stand on legal ground,” said Wayne Sigler, admissions director.

The University doesn’t award any bonus points to minorities, Sigler said. Most freshman-admitting colleges at the University have automatic admission, meaning everyone who meets the colleges’ requirements is admitted – space allowing – regardless of race.

Under automatic admission, prospective students receive a score based on a combination of their SAT or ACT score and high school rank. Each college requires a different minimum score.

For students not meeting automatic admission standards, the University considers race as one type of diversity – a positive attribute for any applicant. Students are also considered diverse if they have overcome difficult circumstances, volunteer extensively, have exceptional talents, are proven leaders or show evidence of academic improvement.

“We make an overall assessment,” Sigler said. “The University never sacrifices academic achievement to enhance numbers or achieve numeric goals.”

Julie Sweitzer, University director of equal opportunity and affirmative action, said the term “affirmative action” has been misunderstood and misused in the last decade.

“Affirmative action isn’t taking from anybody,” she said. “It is addressing the long term and remaining impacts of discrimination in this country.”

But others don’t think the positive effects outweigh the negative.

“Affirmative action means preferential treatment,” said Dennis Busch, a University graduate student. While it gives some a second chance, it also keeps qualified people from achieving, he added.

“We feel the academic and social environment is enhanced by recruiting and enrolling academically qualified students,” Sigler said.

He said although the University publicly supports affirmative action, race is never a deciding or controlling factor in admission.

Institutions in Alabama, Florida and Georgia are affected by the court’s ruling against the University of Georgia. Colleges elsewhere, including the University of Wisconsin, are reviewing their policies and making changes to avoid similar lawsuits.

Latasha Webb welcomes comments at [email protected]