Coloring The Campus

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JOHN BAZEMORE/AP

University of Georgia President Dr. Michael Adams sits in the stands

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These programs and policies are generating a new debate. To supporters of affirmative action, they are the ideal response to rulings such as the UGA and Hopwood decisions, and work to keep higher education inclusive while staying within the letter of the law. But opponents of affirmative action are crying foul. It's hard for anyone to object to some of the milder efforts--like letters of encouragement to minority applicants. But Ward Connerly, the California regent who wrote Proposition 209, argues that many of the ideas being proposed in California, like reducing the academic track, are "designed to be proxies for points"--ways of tipping the scales without engaging in the kind of blatant favoritism struck down in Georgia.

Both sides of this debate claim to be working for diversity. The Georgia appeals court said UGA's inflexible formula, which assigned extra points to blacks, made the mistake of assuming that groups, rather than individuals, add diversity to a campus. "A white applicant from a disadvantaged rural area in Appalachia may well have more to offer a Georgia public university such as UGA--from the standpoint of diversity--than a nonwhite applicant from an affluent family and a suburban Atlanta high school," the court wrote.

But supporters of more traditional approaches to affirmative action say race remains key. "You can be diverse and not have affirmative action," says Richard Black, U.C. Berkeley's associate vice chancellor for admissions and enrollment. "But the kind of diversity that you get from bringing oboe players and stamp collectors together is different."

The Georgia, Michigan and Texas suits all focused on admissions formulas and the extra points given to minority applicants. But if those decisions hold up, expect to see affirmative-action critics turn their attention to the newer, subtler affirmative-action policies. The same week the court issued the UGA ruling, the University of Florida announced, in response to an Office of Civil Rights directive, that it was changing its scholarship criteria to reduce the role of race. The move was unrelated to the UGA ruling, but it was a reminder that in the ongoing assault on affirmative action, these secondary forms of assistance--outreach programs, new admissions criteria, targeted scholarships--may be the next battleground.

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