Oct. 1-7, 1999
IN THIS ISSUE
$10 million Harrison gift to establish history institute at library
Affirmative action debate swirls as BOV meeting approaches
Melvin Tolson's Harlem Gallery and other works gathered in new collection
Groundswalk takes step forward; committe OKs Darden expansion

Gies to students: "It's cool to be smart"

Proffit rewarded for superb teaching
150th anniversary of Poe's death
Poet Gwendolyn Brooks and others to celebrate African-American poetry
Virginia 2020 conference to be held Oct. 14-15
Used book sale to be held Oct. 6-8
Hot Links - Virginia State Climatology Office
New scholarly journal offers forum on contemporary culture
Notable - faculty and staff

In Memoriam

TOP NEWS

Affirmative action debate swirls as Board of Visitors meeting approaches

By Dan Heuchert

U.Va. began to feel the first winds of the nationwide tempest over affirmative action in January, when two outside groups challenged its admissions policies.

The events of the past couple of weeks, as played out in the media, have been stormy.

Board of Visitors member Terence P. Ross, an Alexandria lawyer who chairs a special board committee set up to look into the University's admissions policies, said in early September that the current policies, which allow race to be one of many factors in the admission process, may be legally indefensible.

At Ross' committee's recommendation, the Office of Admission has already begun to increase minority recruitment efforts, advertising for two new admissions counselors and an administrative assistant. In addition, they appear poised to support funding of a new summer program

The program would bring approximately 700 economically disadvantaged youths to U.Va. for two weeks every summer, beginning in the summer before their eighth-grade years. The non-graded curriculum would include instruction in taking standardized tests, using computers and libraries and writing research papers.

Many fear the special committee may recommend that the University stop considering minority status as one of many "plus" factors in admissions decisions. That prospect has elicited a whirlwind of reaction on and off Grounds.

Several groups have asserted strong support for the current admissions policy. The executive council of the Faculty Senate issued a statement Sept. 26 calling the current approach "appropriate and justified. The University policies which have led to these achievements have created a rich and diverse educational environment absent from the one-gender, one-race classrooms of the past."

Advocates for Diversity in Education, a student-led group founded during the spring semester, is reorganizing this fall. It sponsored a rally Sept. 23 that drew approximately 150 people, and plans an overnight "October Camp" on the lower Lawn Oct. 4 and 5 to advocate maintaining the current admissions policies.

Several individual faculty members also have added their voices to those calling for preserving the current policies, including history professor Julian Bond, the national chair of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; M. Rick Turner, dean of the Office of African-American Affairs; and retired history professor Paul M. Gaston, a long-time civil rights activist who penned a pamphlet defending the University's admissions policies in the spring. Those three and 14 others -- including Reginald Butler, director of the Carter G. Woodson Institute for Afro-American and African Studies; David T. Gies, chair of the Faculty Senate; Ann J. Lane, director of Studies in Women and Gender; and English professor and former Arts & Sciences dean Raymond J. Nelson -- signed a half-page advertisement in the Cavalier Daily calling on members of the University community to communicate their support to Casteen.

Casteen, in his April 14 State of the University address, said Virginia's legacy of "massive resistance" -- closing public schools in 1958 to forestall racial integration -- gave it a "moral imperative" to "assume an ongoing commitment to remedy the consequences of actions well within living memory.

"What effects linger across generations when children grow up in a culture where as a matter of defiant law the General Assembly and the Governor chose to close schools and deny education over allowing those children's parents or grandparents to study in classrooms open to every child, regardless of race?" he asked.

"We have a powerful moral motive to take every lawful step to assure that the stream of talented, highly qualified, successful minority women and men who have moved successfully from here into Virginia's and the nation's mainstream, continues to flow. These students are an asset of value to the University, to the commonwealth, to the nation."

The University has one of the highest African-American graduation rates in the country -- over the past four years, approximately 87 percent. The graduation rate for the student body as a whole is 92 percent.

Conversely, the Cavalier Daily urged its readers to reserve judgment until the Board of Visitors' ultimate plan is determined. And the Washington-based Center for Equal Opportunity -- which helped touch off the firestorm in January when it issued a study alleging U.Va.'s admissions policies were in violation of the law -- greeted Ross' recent statements with a press release titled "U.Va. To Scrap Racial Preferences in Admissions," taking credit for forcing a change.

The rhetoric has heated up on both sides of the issue. The local chapter of the NAACP demanded that Ross apologize after he was quoted as saying, "We are clearly in some cases reaching a little bit down our academic standards to recruit black students.

Turner called Ross' remark "a slap in the faces of African-American graduates who have distinguished both themselves and the University by making major contributions to society in a variety of areas."

Last week, the Virginia State Conference NAACP executive committee called for Ross' removal because of the remark, touching off a heated exchange in the Sept. 27 Cavalier Daily.

All parties to the debate seem to agree that the University benefits greatly from a racially diverse student body. Where they part company is in how such diversity is achieved.

Critics of consideration of race in admissions argue that African Americans' statistical disadvantages are due to social and economic factors, not race, and thus minority status should not be a factor in admissions policies. Linda Chavez, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, said, "The University needs to make sure that race is not a proxy for social and economic disadvantage."

Similar arguments were used in successful challenges to affirmative action admissions policies in Texas, where the Center for Individual Rights spearheaded a successful legal battle, and California and Washington, where voters passed initiatives mandating color-blind admissions. The University of Michigan is mounting a major legal defense against an attack on its admissions policies.

"We've got to be cautious and not aggressively push the line because we just can't afford a lawsuit," Ross told the Daily Progress.

Affirmative action's defenders point out that legal opinions striking down such policies so far are only valid in the federal judicial circuits in which they were issued, and that the Supreme Court's 1978 decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke remains the law of the land. In Bakke, the court said that race could be considered in admissions decisions under certain specific conditions, but could not be the only factor.

Supporters maintain that affirmative action remains necessary to overcome the echoes of past racial discrimination. "Blacks do not face disadvantage solely because they are poor, although many are," Bond said. "Rather, blacks of all income levels share disadvantage because we are black and living in a society that gives privileges and favored positions to whites."


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