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Updated 11:30 AM October 27, 2003



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Law School attorney: 'There's a lot of work to be done'

The country shouldn't shirk its responsibility to work toward elimination of educational disparities that make the consideration of race in admissions necessary, attorney Maureen Mahoney said in a speech at U-M. If citizens don't take the initiative, the Supreme Court of the United States might not be willing to give affirmative action another 25 years, as it did after the 1978 Bakke decision, she said.

Maureen Mahoney (Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)

In its landmark decision last summer, the court upheld the right of universities to consider race as a factor in admissions procedures in order to achieve a diverse student body. But Americans should find solutions to the education of students of all races and backgrounds, whether it involves tutoring or implementing school vouchers at the early education levels, Mahoney said.

"We shouldn't just be standing around drinking champagne," said Mahoney, who argued the University's case before the Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger, which challenged the use of affirmative action in the Law School's admission policies. "There's a lot of work to be done."

Mahoney reflected on the case and her life during the Mullin Welch Lecture Oct. 22 at the Power Center for the Performing Arts. The lecture was coordinated by the Center for the Education of Women.

"We shouldn't just be standing around drinking champagne." —Maureen Mahoney

As a result of the court's decision in Gratz v. Bollinger, the University changed its admissions policy for LSA. Formerly, the process awarded 20 points on a 150-point scale to students from under-represented minority groups. The new system, implemented in August, does not use points, but uses a whole-file review and evaluates essay questions to obtain more information about a student's background, personal achievement and ways in which the student may contribute to campus diversity.

"We hope it will create an even better class than we had before," says Jonathan Alger, assistant general counsel.

The University's main focus was implementing policies and procedures that comply with the court's ruling. This "work in progress" will be reviewed throughout its first year, Alger says.

Many colleges will monitor what happens at the University as they tinker with their own policies. In fact, some college officials nationwide fear that the Supreme Court may have opened the door for new legal assaults on race-exclusive scholarships and financial aid programs, according to a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article.

Mahoney, a partner in the Washington office of Latham & Watkins, said the court left the door open for states to challenge affirmative action. This month, California residents voted against Proposition 54, which would have restricted state agencies from collecting racial and ethnic data.

As long as universities review and set policies regarding diversity in a careful way, "they won't run into a situation where the electorate tries to take the decision away from them," she said.

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