The University Record, November 26, 1996


Power's editorial ignores former violations
The editorial Regent Philip Power wrote for his newspaper chain---which you reprinted on 29 October---attacks the rules for the selection of the next president of the University, but omits mention of the egregious violation of all the rules of the selection process which he and the rest of the Board of Regents acquiesced to, secretly, during the search for Harold Shapiro's successor.

Had the Board of Regents not submitted to Regent Baker's irregular and wrongful disruption of that selection process, James Duderstadt would never have been the president of the University of Michigan.

And all that Mr. Power did---according to his letter to me---was determine that he would never speak to Regent Baker again. No, wait: he also "informed" Prof. Duderstadt, so that he wouldn't be "blindsided" if and when the news of Regent Baker's perfidy became public.

If the Regents aren't to be trusted, maybe they need the kind of supervision an open meetings rule permits.

Bert G. Hornback,
professor emeritus of English

Ignoring race in admissions perpetuates inherent bias
As someone actively involved in programs that seek to enhance the diversity of our University, I can no longer ignore Carl Cohen's charge that I am engaged in "practices whose morality is seriously questioned by a great percentage of the citizenry" and, of course, by Professor Cohen himself (The University Record, November 12, 1996). He has on other occasions sought to question the University's admission practices on moral grounds (e.g. during the open meetings called by the Regents during the search for a new President), thereby accusing of immoral behavior each and every one of us who in any way supports preferences in admission to anyone on the basis of race, gender or ethnicity.

Whether my taking the time during the summer months to help prepare underrepresented minority students for graduate studies in the sciences is illegal (it is preferential treatment, which comprises the principle foundation of Professor Cohen's moral outrage) I am perfectly willing to have tested in the courts. However, that I am acting immorally and that Professor Cohen is somehow occupying the higher moral ground is what disturbs me as a colleague who has known and interacted with him for over 20 years.

Professor Cohen does not say in his short piece in the Record nor have I heard him explain in recent public statements how he would admit students to the University, but I presume that in keeping with his long tradition of supporting academic merit he would emphasize test scores, grades and other academic measures. In doing so, he knows, "or ought to know," to use his own turn of argument, that many of these indicators are themselves biased. They are so biased, to mention only one recent example, that many physicists seeking to increase the number of women and minorities in their graduate programs are considering dropping the use of GRE scores in admission (Science, 1 November 1996, p. 710, "How not to pick a physicist?").

I know that in paying attention to race, gender and ethnicity in admission and other programs I am testing the limits of the protections individuals have under the Constitution. I also know that if I ignore race, gender and ethnicity in admission and other programs, I will be perpetuating inherent biases that unfairly advantage some segments of our society while disadvantaging others. The choices we face as an institution of higher education are not simple "right-wrong" ones. There are harms and goods no matter what we do, and the right course of action is debatable. It surprises and troubles me, therefore, that someone whose professional expertise is supposedly directed at exploring difficult moral questions is so willing to close down the discussion and claim that he has discovered the correct moral way for our University to "promote the general welfare" of our State and Nation.

Nicholas H. Steneck,
professor of history and of professional ethics