debate swirls as Board of Visitors meeting approaches
By Dan Heuchert
began to feel the first winds of the nationwide tempest over affirmative
action in January, when two outside groups challenged its admissions
events of the past couple of weeks, as played out in the media,
have been stormy.
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.²
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.
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.
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.
got to be cautious Š and not aggressively push the line because
we just can't afford a lawsuit," Ross told the Daily
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."