Foes of Affirmative Action Push Colleges to Reveal Policies on Race-Conscious Admissions
Peter Schmidt, Chronicle of Higher Education, March 23, 2004
The National Association of Scholars is undertaking a campaign to use state open-records laws to force selective public colleges to reveal exactly how they are considering race and ethnicity in admissions.
The association is conducting the campaign, which it plans to announce today, in tandem with two organizations that also have been highly critical of affirmative action: the Center for Equal Opportunity and the Center for Individual Rights.
As of today, 20 of the association’s state affiliates have sent requests for information dealing with race-conscious admissions policies to selective public colleges in their states. The requests, in letters addressed to each college’s president, ask for all data relevant to the institutions’ consideration of race and ethnicity in undergraduate, graduate, and professional-school admissions.
The letters also ask a host of questions that appear designed to ascertain the legality of the colleges’ admissions policies, such as whether the colleges’ have considered race-neutral alternatives to affirmative action in admissions, how much weight they give to ethnicity and race, and how often they consider whether they still need race-conscious admissions policies to maintain diversity on their campuses.
“Our purpose is to bring this information into the light of public scrutiny,” said Bradford P. Wilson, executive director of the faculty organization, which opposes race-conscious college-admissions policies as divisive and harmful to educational quality.
Curt A. Levey, director of legal and public affairs for the Center for Individual Rights, said his organization may use the information gathered through the campaign as the basis for lawsuits against public colleges that the center believes give more weight to the race and ethnicity of applicants than the law allows.
Mr. Levey said that the information-gathering campaign “gives us a great way to watch” whether colleges are complying with the legal limits on race-conscious admissions policies set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court last June in two cases involving race-conscious admissions policies at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
“The best weapon for us at this point is transparency,” Mr. Levey said. “Schools do fight pretty hard not to disclose this data. That tells you, obviously, that they have something to hide.”
The Center for Equal Opportunity expects to publicize the information to put colleges under public and political pressure to abandon race-conscious admissions policies, according to its general counsel, Roger B. Clegg. The group may also file discrimination complaints with the Justice Department or the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights against colleges that it believes to be operating outside the law, Mr. Clegg said.
The National Association of Scholars plans to enlist many of its 46 state affiliates and more than 4,000 individual members as foot soldiers in its campaign, by asking them to request information from selective public colleges and keep after the colleges until they release the information.
Mr. Wilson, the group’s executive director, said that state taxpayers and their elected representatives “have every right to know precisely how applicants are being treated by publicly funded institutions, and whether or not these institutions discriminate on the grounds of ancestry or skin color.” If colleges refuse to provide such information, he said, “we intend to persevere,” suing the colleges under freedom-of-information laws if necessary.
Travis J. Reindl, director of state-policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, on Monday described the campaign as “no surprise,” given the National Association of Scholars’ past opposition to affirmative action.
He said that colleges “have nothing to hide” and will comply with open-records laws, but he lamented that the three advocacy groups were taking a confrontational approach to getting the information from public colleges, rather than seeking to work cooperatively with them.
“We could actually be in dialogue,” Mr. Reindl said, but instead the campaign “seems to be more about pointing fingers or trying to find smoking guns about unqualified minorities somehow getting into the system.”
Sheldon E. Steinbach, vice president and general counsel of the American Council on Education, an umbrella group representing higher-education associations, called the campaign “patent, senseless harassment” of colleges that are doing everything possible to ensure that their admissions policies comply with the law.
The 20 states where colleges have been sent letters are: Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.
Following is the text of a sample letter that affiliates of the National Association of Scholars are using to request information dealing with race-conscious admissions policies from public colleges in their states.
Dear President [X]:
Pursuant to the freedom of information and/or public record disclosure laws of [name of state], and as state citizens, we request all documents at [name of university] regarding the following:
Any statements or discussions of university policies, practices, or procedures, formal or informal, relating to the use of racial and ethnic considerations in admissions to or eligibility for any undergraduate, graduate, or professional school program, activity, or benefit. Such information should include but is not limited to:
(a) groups for which membership is considered a plus factor or a minus factor and, in addition, how membership in a group is determined for individual students;
(b) how group membership is considered, including the weight given to such consideration and whether targets, goals, or quotas are used;
(c) why group membership is considered (including the determination of the critical-mass level and relationship to the particular institution’s educational mission with respect to the diversity rationale);
(d) what consideration has been given to neutral alternatives as a means for achieving the same goals for which group membership is considered;
(e) how frequently the need to consider group membership is reassessed and how that reassessment is conducted;
(f) factors other than race, color, ethnicity, or national origin that are considered or collected in the admissions process (unless your school has a policy of not considering race or ethnicity). If those factors include grades or class rank in high school, scores on standardized tests (including the ACT and SAT), legacy status, sex, state residency, or other quantifiable criteria, then we further request all admissions data for applicants regarding these factors, along with the applicants’ race, color, ethnicity, and national origin and the admissions decision made by the school regarding that applicant, with the name of individual students and other personally identifiable information redacted (so as to comply with, for instance, the Buckley Amendment, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, 20 U.S.C. 1232g) but with appropriate links, in computer-readable form, so that it is possible to determine through statistical analysis the weight being given to race, color, ethnicity, and national origin relative to other factors; and
(g) any analysis — and the underlying data used for such an analysis — bearing on whether there is a correlation (i) between membership in a group favored on account of race, color, ethnicity, or national origin and the likelihood of enrollment in a remediation program, relative to membership in other groups; (ii) between such membership and graduation rates, relative to membership in other groups; and (iii) between such membership and the likelihood of defaulting on education loans, relative to membership in other groups.
Thank you very much for your attention to this request.