Gaming Affirmative Action

A guide to an arcane, complex and subjective mess

By Fernando Oaxaca
Published on LatinoLA: January 20, 2003

Gaming Affirmative Action

Racial preferences? quotas? affirmative action? affirmative access? reverse discrimination?"the numbers game"?what?s the big fuss? On January 15, President Bush spoke out against the controversial student admission practices at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. At midnight, January 16, the Solicitor General of the United States, Ted Olson, submitted amicus curiae briefs to the Supreme Court, generally in line with the President?s position. That?s what the noise and excitement is about!

Almost the same individual critics and loud groups that jumped on Trent Lott just a couple of weeks ago??.were immediately at it again. There were instant accusations of racial insensitivity, disrespect for minorities, and impending violations of civil rights. Loud complaints, voiced to the press, made no mention of why the University of Michigan was being sued. Nobody identified the plaintiffs who felt wronged and now had a chance to be heard by the highest court in the land.

The cause of this excitement was the granting of a Writ of Certiorari by the United States Supreme Court involving a lawsuit by three rejected student applicants to the Michigan University Law school and its School of Literature, Science and the Arts. Their names are Barbara Grutter, rejected by the Law School at 43 in 1996 and Jennifer Gratz and Patrick Hamacher, both 17 at the time and turned down in 1997 by the School of Literature, Science and the Arts. They were not "minorities", their skin was "white". If they had been black, Hispanic or Native American, they probably would have a UM sheepskin by now.

So Barbara, Jennifer and Patrick sued the University for unfair treatment; for using an admissions process that was loaded against them for being "white" rather than one of the three "chosen" minorities. If they had been of "Asian" origin (Chinese, Japanese, Hmong, Vietnamese, Indian, etc.), an "over-represented" category, they probably would have been rejected as well. Strangely, both "Arabs" and Jews were not treated as "minorities" either. You had to be one of the preferred three.

Their cases had won at the appellate level; the certiorari decision meant that the Supreme Court would now hear their cases against the Board of Regents of the University. President Bush, under pressure to intervene from "minority" civil rights groups, their media groupies and the usual entrepreneurial activists ?did what they should have known he would do.

The President came out strongly for the value of diversity in higher education but said unambiguously, "the method used by the University of Michigan to achieve this important goal is fundamentally flawed." Mr. Bush then called the Michigan policies "divisive, unfair and impossible to square with the Constitution." It worked like the starting bell at Hollywood Park!

Daschle, Kennedy, Leahy, Biden, the Black Congressional Caucus, the Hispanic Congressional Caucus, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, LULAC, National Council of La Raza, MALDEF; like almost anyone could have predicted, all the usual horses were off! And the rhetoric, still warmed up from the Lott orgasm, was wondrous to witness.

"Once again today, the administration has said as clearly by their actions as anyone can, they will continue to side with those opposed to civil rights," stormed the Senate Minority Leader, Tom Daschle.

Jesse Jackson, on his way to his annual shakedown of Wall Street gently offered, "the most anti-civil rights president in 50 years."

"I don't think there's a Latino organization in the country that sides with what the President did today," said Manuel Mirabal, chairman of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a self-described "coalition of 40 civil rights and public policy organizations."

Attorney Leticia Salcedo of MALDEF predicted that it would "set civil rights back a quarter century." That would take us back to 1978. That year the Yankees beat the Dodgers, Leon Spinks beat Muhammad Ali and Jimmy Carter increased federal aid to farmers. Why did you pick a "quarter century", Leticia?

As an attorney, what Ms. Salcedo should have expressed is at least some concern that the defendants, the University, admitted that they "seek through diversity in admissions to address the consequences of residential and K-12 segregation, racial isolation, racial stereotypes, and other social phenomena associated with the history of race relations in this country. Racial preferences justified on such grounds could lead to an unlimited claim for preferences in many areas of American society." (Final Brief of Plaintiffs'-Appellants filed before 6th Circuit, July 30, 2001)

Let?s have a look at what student applicants face when they apply to Michigan; what MALDEF and NCLR and LULAC and the others defend.

The new guidelines use a "Selection Index" calculated on a variety of factors and scored on a scale of up to 150 points as follows: 100 to 150 points (admit); 95-99 points (admit or postpone); 90-94 points (postpone or admit); 75-89 points (delay or postpone); 74 points and below (delay or reject).

Up to 80 points can be based on high school grade point average (e.g., 40 points for a 2.0 GPA; 60 points for a 3.0; and 80 points for a 4.0). Up to 12 points, representing a perfect ACT/SAT score, can be earned for performance on either of the two standardized tests; up to 10 points for quality of school; from 8 to -4 points for strength or weakness of high school curriculum; 10 points for in-state residency; 4 points for alumni relationships; 1 point for an outstanding essay (changed to 3 points beginning in 1999); and 5 points for personal achievement or leadership on the national level. Under a "miscellaneous" category, 20 points are added for one of several factors, including an applicant?s membership in an "underrepresented" racial or ethnic minority. (From Plaintiffs' Petition to the Supreme Court for Writ of Certiorari Before Judgment October 1, 2002)

Though officially unconfirmed, radio and TV interviews of ex-students reveal that athletes in the "right" sports (those that generate big bucks) receive an unofficial additional 20 points. Also, progeny of super-generous university donors/alumni also receive an extra 20 points. President Coleman, in rebuttal to the President on January 17, says that students may get 20 points for "disadvantaged circumstances" but not for being minority also. Then she added, "If you?re from northern Michigan, you might get 16 points (instead of the ten for being from Michigan only)". Do you understand this arcane, complex and subjective mess now?

Anyhow, in this process with the Good-Housekeeping Seal of approval from the civil rights champions, a black (20) athlete (20) begins his entrance search with 40 points already under his or her belt! He or she only needs a 2.0 (!) GPA for 40 more points; only 8 under what?s needed for admission if they are from Detroit (10)! Short, (no basketball) small (no football) Latinos from the Southwest need a 4.0 GPA to make the magic 100 point admission balcony ticket. One to three points for demonstrating literacy by writing a good essay? Who needs it; who cares!

There is one other key aspect of this matter which cannot be ignored. The basic premise and excuse for this kind of discriminatory admission policy is that universities allegedly need diversity in the student population in order to allow all ethnicities and races to learn from each other and see each other in the same environment. It supposedly makes for a more "enriching" educational experience.

Doesn?t this smack of the old "busing" of poor children to schools with non-minority kids from wealthier families? I never quite understood who was the beneficiary of this exercise; I just know that Latino mothers were and still are concerned when their kids are shipped across town, far from home. What if they get sick or hurt or something? Yet, the do-gooders could care less about a mother's wanting their child close to home!

Further, I hate to disagree with the President, but I really question the pedagogic or mutual social value of having a "white" computer nerd sitting next to me in History or English or Calculus class, other than for me to ask for help!

Stuffing the "prestigious" universities with a few "minorities" to "enrich" the lives of "white" youngsters or, conversely, to let Chicano kids see how their "betters" behave and learn or for black youngsters to be exposed in close quarters to "whitey"?.is bizarre and somehow distasteful. The reality is that the 110 point admission-score black football or basketball players are not likely to take the same classes as the "white" math or science major or the Asian youth on the MBA track! Further, the "teams" will spend time with each other far more than with other students in shared classrooms.

Even in cafeterias, "like" students will sit together. Only in the Armed Forces do you have successful enforced "diversity"??because it is the only way to go for discipline and mandatory cooperative effort!

More to the point, at many prestigious schools, separate dorms and centers of college life have sprung up for those inclined to Afro-centrism, for the Atzlanistas who want to be close to their Chicano Studies classmates; and Christian or Jewish enclaves abound, and now some campuses even allow sexual-preference groupings, etc. Diversity becomes a sham in this artificial, self-disposed return to the barrio or ghetto or whatever??while engrossed with getting a college education.

Recently, the Latino students at USC even wanted "their own" graduation! And, of course, most of the "Greek" fraternities and sororities have not universally "integrated" their rushing or final selection for the non-classroom life to come, on that ivy-covered campus!

Bottom line, diversity on campus may or may not happen naturally; it may enrich or not enrich your learning, but you are not going to fabricate it and nobody has proved that the "minority" benefits scholastically. But some will fight hard to build it by hook or crook or fakey admission policies!

Thus the stage is set for a long term of punishing the Bush Administration for holding forth a common-sense approach to college admissions for the 21st century. Eventually the Supremes will render a judgement. And the issue will fade as the real world is recognized over the next few years. In Texas, where Mr. Bush as Governor decreed that the top ten percent of high school graduating seniors were automatically admitted to the Texas University system; the results are beyond expectations.

For all senior Texas public colleges, Latinos have gone from 16.9% of the student population in the affirmation action days of 1991 to 21.8% in 2001, with racial preferences banned by the courts. The University of Houston, for example, has gone from 12.2% to 20.3% Latino in the same period. Blacks have gone from 9.5% to 15.4%.

What we should demand from MALDEF, NCLR, and LULAC the next time they want us to buy that $250 ticket to their annual banquet, is that they begin yelling and lobbying at the local level at elected officials from Latino districts to act for the kids. Let them sue the teacher unions that say that the senior, experienced teachers don?t have to teach in poor neighborhoods so that the junior, uncredentialed, less knowledgable teachers end up teaching Latino or black kids!. Publicly attack these same unions when they whine about testing of the kids to see how good the teaching is going. We must tell these "civil rights" groups that Latino kids have a "civil right" not to be socially promoted, that they have a "civil right" to be literate in English, even at the expense of Spanish, and that they have a "civil right" to learn math they will need to get a job and a "civil right" not to have to drop out of high school.

Let them use one-half the energy they waste in attacking their self-imposed natural enemies, Republicans; on these local office-holders and their union enablers. Let them use that energy and donated resources on getting Latino kids better prepared for college. They will find this a harder task than talking to reporters about their "opposition" to a President or a party. But by leaning on "their own", the Latino elected officials, school boards and fawning non-Latinos, they will assist and motivate more Latino youth into higher education than they ever dreamed of!

And those kids will have degrees earned on merit; they will never be accused of having a college credential that was even partly "given" to them. And when their first employer asks them how they did in school, they can brag about their GPA and their university grades. They can even say, "to hell with diversity in college;" it won?t add one cent to their starting salary!

About Fernando Oaxaca:
Fernando Oaxaca got his engineering degree in 1950 at the Texas College of Mines and Metallurgy (now UTEP) with savings from a paper route, the GI bill and a nagging mother during K-12. Reach Mr. Oaxaca at

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