Tuesday, September 11, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 14


Georgia loses discrimination case

Michael Ahlf

Once upon a time, there was a state university. Concerned that their campus wouldn't be diverse enough, the regents tried various things. Racial quotas were out, because the Supreme Court had abolished them long ago.

The other option? Racial preferences, where the status of an applicant as a "minority" registered as a "plus" in the application process.

The method? Minorities received a bonus added to their numerical ratings, before any admissions official ever saw the applications. And so
the proceedings continued, until challenged by three white females in 1999.

The case? Johnson v. Board of Regents of University of Georgia. 

In 1999, the University of Georgia applied bonuses for being male and minority to applications, in a system where a numeric score of 4.92
or better guaranteed admission. For being male, students were given an additional 0.25 points; for being minority, an extra 0.5. The white
females in question were at a serious disadvantage to their male minority counterparts, having to score more than 15 percent better on
school grades, SAT scores and miscellaneous "plus" items to get into guaranteed admission.

Earlier this year, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the victory of the women in their lawsuit, ruling that the policy is
unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment.

Affirmative action policies, called "reverse discrimination" by some, have been under fire since the 1978 Regents of the University of
California v. Bakke decision, to 1996's Hopwood v. Texas decision. Thanks to a series of conflicting decisions in Michigan, the issue
seems to be heading back to the U.S. Supreme Court for another round.

Not surprisingly, the question of whether affirmative action is a good thing or not depends on whom you ask. Some schools manage to do
quite well without quotas or programs that resemble Georgia's, and UH is a fine example.

Others, like the University of Texas Law School (the losers in the Hopwood decision), find their diversity slipping away without the
preferential treatment in place.

The question of diversity isn't unique to colleges. In the past, children have been bused all over cities, in grade school through high school,
under the guise of improving "diversity" in the school systems. Of course, even the busing programs haven't succeeded entirely -- some of
these have been thrown out of courts as well.

In the Georgia case, the appeals court hit an important concept: the difference between diversity as a whole and racial balancing.

At UH, we have an abundance of differences in race, religion, political philosophies, age, gender, sexual orientation and every other
interests. UH works hard to keep this going and has its own public forums like The Daily Cougar as well as extremely active student groups.
And, it manages everything without reducing racial preferences to a numbers game.

So why did Georgia's policy fail? Because it was exactly what affirmative action isn't supposed to be. Instead of bringing in minority
students, it punished non-minorities. It would have been equally unconstitutional if there had been a box for "homosexual" in the admission
forms, or had there been differing bonus amounts dependent on whether the applicant were Latino, Asian, black, caucasian or "other."

The program itself, by arbitrarily adding points to an applicant's admission scores based on race and gender, lent credence to the myth that
the minorities were inferior and needed "help" to get into the college. Maybe now, Georgia can find a better way; if it does, it should certainly
give UH a look to see how we manage it.

Ahlf, a senior electrical engineering major,
doesn't discriminate against e-mail sent to mahlf@mail.uh.edu.

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