Substituting empty ideology prohibits understanding

Iif we are not talking about a possible war in a Middle Eastern country, we are talking about affirmative action, particularly pertaining to the reverse discrimination suits brought against the University of Michigan, which the Supreme Court will review this spring. And as always, there are those who substitute attractive but ultimately empty ideology for constructive analysis of the issue. This problem is so pervasive it has even infected our very president, who recently likened the University of Michigan’s admissions policy to strict quotas. In the interest of placing the debate in a more honest perspective, here are a series of answers to common questions one might have concerning the issue.

Question: Doesn’t affirmative action discriminate against whites?

Answer: Not necessarily. Between Barbara Grutter and Jennifer Gratz, the two lead plaintiffs in the separate lawsuits against the University of Michigan, more than 1,260 white students with lower qualifications were admitted before them. It’s the same thing for Alan Bakke, who filed the famous lawsuit in 1978 after being rejected by the University of California-Davis Medical School when 36 white applicants with lower MCAT scores than Bakke’s were admitted. Ditto for Sheryl Hopwood, who sued the University of Texas for denying her entrance into its law school; 109 whites with lower qualifications than Hopwood were admitted.

Question: The University of Michigan gives 20 out of 150 points if you are an underrepresented minority and only 12 points if you have a perfect SAT score. Doesn’t that mean race is the most important factor in admissions?

Answer: Actually, how well you did in school is THE most important factor, giving you up to 80 points. The University of Michigan also “discriminates” in favor of Michigan residents (10 points), poor whites (20 points), athletes (20 points), people from underrepresented Michigan counties (6 points), people who attend rigorous high schools (10 points) and those who took advanced placement courses (8 points).

Question: I thought the SAT and the ACT were a big deal in deciding who gets into college – why only 12 points?

Answer: That’s because SAT scores only predict 18 percent of the first-year grade and are heavily influenced by coaching (increases in scores can be as high as 380 points).

Question: Once we dump affirmative action, we’ll have equal opportunity, right?

Answer: A lot of people would like to think that, but the answer is no. Because of Michigan’s racial history, nearly 80 percent of the state’s black schoolchildren attend segregated schools. Nationwide, 70 percent of black schoolchildren attend segregated schools. Because of that statistic alone, you will be virtually guaranteed non-diverse classrooms if school segregation and other factors maintaining the disparities between whites and minorities are not taken into account.

Question: Affirmative action brings in unqualified minorities who are unable to deal with the pressures of higher education. Aren’t we only hurting them by keeping that policy?

Answer: It’s true that the gaps in standardized scores between black and white applicants to selective colleges have been significant, but it still doesn’t mean that blacks can’t compete. In fact, it is the most selective schools that report the highest black graduation rates. For example, Harvard has a black graduation rate of 92 percent, Princeton recorded a 90 percent black graduation rate, Yale has an 87 percent black graduation rate and Dartmouth’s black graduation rate is 85 percent. There’s a similar story in graduate schools where, for example, minorities who were admitted to the University of Michigan Law School received their law degrees and passed the bar exam at virtually the same rate as whites. In fact, if there is anything holding back the black graduation rate, it is the rising costs of school. A study by the Nellie Mae Foundation reports that 69 percent of black students who failed to complete college did so because of financial reasons.

Question: Wouldn’t Martin Luther King Jr. be against affirmative action?

Answer: The “color of our skin/content of our character” quote has had a pretty wide circulation among affirmative action critics, but if people actually took the time to read the other things he has said about racial rectifications, they would find a Martin Luther King Jr. quite unlike the heavily idolized version. For example, in a Newsweek article published the same month of the “I Have a Dream” speech, King said he thought it was necessary to have a type of “discrimination in reverse” in order to correct the racial inequalities.

King was even more descriptive in his 1963 work “Why We Can’t Wait”: “Whenever this issue of compensatory or preferential treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree, but he should ask for nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic. For it is obvious that if a man enters the starting line of a race three hundred years after another man, the first would have to perform some incredible feat in order to catch up.”

Just in case anyone thought he changed his mind after that, in 1967 he wrote in “Where Do We Go From Here?”: “A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for him, in order to equip him to compete on a just and equal basis.”

So as you can see, it would be quite dishonest to make selective use of Martin Luther King Jr.’s message in order to stop efforts to ameliorate the errors of the past and the present.

Gad Onyeneho is a University sophomore studying biology. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]