The University Record, January 28, 1997

Excellence not always measured by test scores, White says

By Jared Blank


Speakers at the program "Affirmative Action in the Academy: Safeguarding the Gains Made" in Hutchins Hall Jan. 20 discussed what they believe are the virtues of affirmative action programs and ways for the University and the country to further rectify economic and social inequalities.

Theodore Shaw, assistant professor of law, said that lawyers and judges are afraid to suggest that economic justice---"the right to subsistence"---is guaranteed by the Constitution. Though this discussion is "political suicide" to those in the law profession, Shaw said, "if we do not address the problem of economic inequality it will tear the social fabric apart."

Shaw blamed the Supreme Court and the Clinton administration for continuing to "chip away" at affirmative action and repressing opportunities for the disenfranchised. "The Supreme Court has led a distorted discourse on race where there is no attention paid to history," Shaw said. "One is led to believe that a great evil in the country today is discrimination against white men."

It is ironic, Shaw added, "that we are celebrating Martin Luther King Day on the same day as the $40 million inauguration for the president who signed a bill to end welfare as we know it."

Dennis Hayashi, director of the U.S. Office for Civil Rights, defended the Clinton administration's views on welfare reform. "We worry about whether welfare reform will have a disparate impact on certain minority groups" he said. Hayashi also defended the administration's stance on affirmative action programs, noting that, contrary to what has been widely reported, Clinton supports affirmative action programs that are "flexible and fair. Affirmative action remains a vital tool to eliminating discrimination."

Hayashi and Business School Dean B. Joseph White also touched on the continuing problem of cronyism.

"Old boy connections and cronyism have a lot to do with how contracts are awarded," Hayashi said. White added that over the years he has received myriad phone calls in support of prospective students, but none of the calls have been for minority students.

"Racism and sexism are ingrained attitudes that profoundly affect decision-making," White said. He noted that two criteria are necessary for changing an organization's attitudes on race. First, the group must have "a bedrock belief" that excellence and diversity are intertwined, that "one is not possible without the other." Second, the organization must have a moral commitment to "opening the gateways" to opportunities, gateways like the University of Michigan, he said. Without a continuing commitment to diversity, the gateway will become "a revolving door" as minority students who feel unwelcome leave the University.

White stressed the importance of re-examining how schools measure excellence. "Anyone who believes that grades and test scores should be the only criteria examined has never done admissions," he said.

The program was sponsored by the Faculty Senate, Michigan Student Assembly and the 1997 MLK Symposium Planning Committee.