Original URL: http://www.azstarnet.com/star/today/30624AFFIRMATIVEACTION.html

High court OKs race factor in college admissions
June 24, 2003
By Sarah Garrecht Gassen

A U.S. Supreme Court decision Monday gives the green light to a University of Arizona plan to consider race as one factor under a new admissions policy.

The Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Arizona native Sandra Day O'Connor, upheld a University of Michigan Law School practice that includes race as one factor in deciding admittance.

In a related opinion, the court ruled against a University of Michigan undergraduate policy that allots points toward admission to applicants based solely on race, saying the method was too mechanical.

"In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity," O'Connor wrote for the 5-4 majority.

At the heart of the case was the question of whether a policy that uses race in college admissions to the advantage of one group violates the constitutional equal protection rights of other groups.

The UA filed a "friend of the court" brief in support of the Michigan Law School policy of using race as one of several factors in admission.

"This is a victory overall for public education because it opens doors," said Jayanti Muliyil, a UA business and economics senior.

The UA now automatically admits students in the top half of their high school class, but the university will become more selective in admissions beginning in 2006.

Under the new method, the UA will admit students in the top 25 percent of their high school class and admit students in the next 25 percent based on academics and other factors, including race.

Muliyil supports using race as one factor in admissions, saying that many minority students fight uphill battles to reach college, coming up through bad schools in poor neighborhoods.

"If they can make it to the university level, they definitely should be given preferential treatment," she said.

The Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees the three state public universities, is allowing individual universities more control over their admissions requirements.

"I'm encouraged by the Supreme Court decision," said Regent Jack Jewett. "It fits precisely with what we want to accomplish. We want the universities to maintain and enhance diversity."

The UA does not use, and does not plan to use, a point system in admissions, he said.

Communications junior Aaron Ruffins said the UA needs to be more diverse and he is glad the Supreme Court upheld the goals of affirmative action. He said the UA promotes a diverse student body in its brochures, and while many races, cultures and countries may be represented on campus, there aren't enough people from those cultures and races to make a difference.

"If college isn't diverse, then it's not a good platform to start your career from, because it's not like life," Ruffins said. "I'm the only black person in almost all my classes - and if there is another one, I'll probably know them."

Arizona Congressman Raśl Grijalva said his first reaction to the decision was relief. He was heartened by the court's opinion that promoting diversity is a compelling state interest that will benefit society.

He will still watch how the UA creates its new admission requirements, to make sure minority students aren't shut out.

"That concern is there, and it lingers," Grijalva said. "The court decision today allows universities some flexibility."

* The Associated Press contributed to this report. * Contact Sarah Garrecht Gassen at 573-4117 or at sgassen@azstarnet.com.