The University Record, December 10, 1997


Affirmative action 'in best interest of educational institutions'

As director of the Residential College (RC) at the University of Michigan I welcome intellectual diversity on the part of our faculty and students, and I encourage the expression of diverse views on issues of public interest as well as on matters of s cholarly analysis. In this context, I fully respect the right of my RC colleague, Prof. Carl Cohen, to criticize the University's affirmative action policies and to support the lawsuit recently filed against the University's admission policies.

I wish to state unequivocally, however, that I do not share Prof. Cohen's views on these matters and that these views do not reflect the policy of the Residential College. I believe that affirmative action-in the form of preferences in admission poli cies for groups of students whose common group identity exposes them to disadvantageous treatment-is both morally right and in the best interest of educational institutions.

Admission to the University of Michigan should not simply be a reward for the achievement of high grade point averages or high standardized test scores. Instead, admission should be based on the potential to make use of a university education to deve lop one's talents and abilities to a high level of accomplishment by the time of graduation and to enhance the well-being of society in one's post-graduate career.

It is an undeniable fact that people of color in the United States still face disadvantages in their opportunities and life chances simply because of how others respond to their color. As a consequence, it takes more talent and/or more resourcefulnes s on the part of people of color to reach any given level of educational achievement (as conventionally measured). In order to estimate the true potential of students applying for admission to a college or university, one must therefore give greater cred it than reflected in grades and test scores to students of color-to recognize the extent to which they have had to apply greater talent and resourcefulness to overcome the obstacles they have confronted. Color-blind admission policies, far from being fai r and just, actually discriminate against students of color.

When color truly makes little difference to one's life chances in this country, the University of Michigan should dispense with affirmative action and adopt color-blind admission policies. Until then, we should neither be surprised nor upset to disco ver that the average grades and test scores of admitted students of color are lower than the average for white students. Such observations do not alter the reality that these students of color have just as much potential for high levels of achievement an d are no less qualified members of our University community than their white fellow students.

Thomas E. Weisskopf, director, Residential College

U-M almost had Nobelist

A recent article in The Michigan Daily recounted the University's poor luck with Nobel Prizes. Reading it caused me to realize that I may be the only current faculty member who knows of one of the most tragic.

Several years ago, I was host for an American Psychological Association reception at the International Congress of Psychology in Edinburgh. During the reception, a Swedish psychologist told me that he had prepared the citation to be presented to Geor ge Katona, professor of psychology and of economics and research scientist, Institute for Social Research.

George had been selected for the Nobel Prize in Economics. However, he died (in August, I think) and Nobel Prizes are not announced until the fall. Since Nobel Prizes are not awarded posthumously, George (and the University of Michigan) missed the r ecognition he richly deserved.

W.J. McKeachie, professor emeritus of psychology and research scientist emeritus, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching

Editor's Note: Katona, who was the originator of regular surveys of consumer attitudes, died in June 1981 at age 79.

Sandalow's comments clarified

An article in the November 26 Record, reporting on the "Affirmative Action 101" panel discussion in which I participated, contains two errors that I should correct. First, the article attributes to me a prediction that the "Supreme Court will agree w ith the argument that it is important for the educational environment to have a diverse student body." Second, it attributes to me personally the view that "there is a compelling social interest in providing that kind of education." Neither statement ac curately reflects what I said.

The Supreme Court has held that racial classifications are legally permissible only if they "are necessary to achieve a compelling governmental purpose." Thus far, the only purpose that the Supreme Court has recognized as "compelling" is remedying d iscrimination by the institution employing a racial classification. Since the University of Michigan has not for many years, if ever, discriminated against members of the minority groups that are the beneficiaries of its current policies, that justificat ion is unavailable to it.

In the course of canvassing various other purposes that have been advanced to justify racial and ethnic preferences in university admissions, I said that there were two-and only two-that a majority of the justices might be willing to regard as being o f "compelling importance." The first, which persuaded at least one member of the Court in the celebrated Bakke case, is that the justices might be willing to defer to the judgment of faculties that racial and ethnic diversity is important to the educatio nal mission of colleges and universities. The second, which has been emphasized by President Bollinger, is that a majority of the justices might regard continued integration of important social institutions as being of compelling importance. But to say that a majority of the justices might be persuaded by these arguments is very different from predicting that they will.

I did say that I was hopeful-and if pinned to the wall, would even predict-that five or six members of the Court would conclude that colleges and universities should be permitted to continue employing minority preferences in their admissions. But my reason for that very cautious prediction has little to do with the formal legal arguments. The inability of colleges and universities to employ race as a factor in deciding which applicants to admit would lead to a precipitous decline in the admission o f African Americans and persons of Hispanic ancestry to selective institutions of higher education. In the end, I believe, a majority of the Justices are likely to conclude that that result would be socially and politically intolerable.

Terrance Sandalow, Edson R. Sunderland Professor of Law