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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 3, 2003

Affirmative action can help achieve diversity

One of the most formidable challenges in America today is how to diversify educational institutions and workplaces without violating constitutional bans against racial and gender discrimination.

It seems an impossible task. But does that mean we should do away with affirmative action? That very question is before the U.S. Supreme Court as it grapples over whether the University of Michigan's formula for diversifying its student body violates the Constitution.

Three white students say the university turned them down in favor of minorities even though they were equally qualified for admission.

We sympathize with those who feel their dreams have been dashed on account of their race. Such sentiments fueled the civil rights movement, and reverse discrimination is no less emotional.

By its very nature, affirmative action is discriminatory. But that doesn't mean it has to be a mindless quota system. Take the University of Michigan, which uses a 150-point "selection index" that takes into account these factors:

  • Previous academic performance counts for up to 110 points. The other 40 points go to factors that "indicate an applicant's potential contribution to the university" and include:
  • Membership in an underrepresented minority group, socio-economic disadvantage, attendance at a predominantly minority high school, athletics or the provost's discretion (20 points).
  • Michigan residency (10 points).
  • Residency in a Michigan county underrepresented at the university (6 points).
  • Residency in an underrepresented state (2 points).
  • Alumni relationships (1 to 4 points).
  • Personal essay (up to 3 points).
  • Activities, work experience and awards (up to 5 points).
  • Personal achievement (5 points).

Taken together, these criteria look like a fairly reasonable attempt to make the university "look like Michigan."

We favor an effort to expand the definition of diversity because learning alongside people from all walks of life is priceless.

That means aiming for a mix of nationalities, ethnicities and socio-economic classes because race is no longer the greatest divide. In some respects, a middle-class black or Hispanic may have more in common with a middle-class white than a working class or welfare-dependent black or Hispanic.

That said, we simply are not yet at the point where diversity just happens, and are therefore not ready to condemn affirmative action.

It is because of affirmative action programs that U.S. minorities have made enormous strides in all fields, and America is richer because of that.