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Civil Rights Commission Denounces
Percentage Programs:

States Continue Fighting Affirmative Action Attacks

Jennifer Lin
Washington, D.C.

On April 11, 2000, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released a scathing report against the use of percentage programs in replacing race-conscious admissions and education policies. The Commission, appointed by the President, does not have enforcement power, however their statement sends a strong message to states pursuing percentage programs in place of affirmative action policies.

The commission’s report centers mostly on the use of race, and not gender, in the top percentage programs implemented after the elimination of affirmative action programs. The report also focuses on affirmative action and percentage programs at the enrollments at the so-called “flagship” universities within the state university systems.

In releasing the U.S. Commission on Civil Right’s report, chairwoman of the commission Dr. Mary Berry stated that the percentage programs were “no substitute for strong race-conscious affirmative action” and “if a state has affirmative action, and can keep it, it ought to.” The report is titled Toward an Understanding of Percentage Plans in Higher Education: Are They Effective Substitutes for Affirmative Action?

While the report did credit the Texas Ten Percent Plan for guaranteeing admission to any school, including the state’s flagship university University of Texas (UT) - Austin, the commission still criticized the plan’s inability to increase the yield for students of color (or the percentage of students of color that applied who were admitted.)

The commission stated that while percentage programs do promote some diversity within racially segregated communities, “the adverse impact on the admission of black and Hispanic high school students not in the top 10 percent shows that UT-Austin’s failure to increase the yield while implementing the Texas Plan creates an ineffective replacement program when compared with the university’s previous affirmative action policy.”

After analyzing the newly passed Florida “Talented 20%” program, which sought to replace affirmative action with a similar percentage program as those that exist in Texas and California, the commissions responded that “the (Florida) Plan is an unprovoked stealth acknowledgment - and acceptance - that the existing school and housing segregation will never change, and that long-standing efforts to remedy the race discrimination that was legal in Florida have been abandoned.”

The commission’s stance against the “One Florida Initiative” is good news, following the state-wide “March on Tallahassee” last month that gathered an estimated 25,000 people in the largest march in history to the state capitol of Florida. Marchers targeted, among many issues, the governor’s plan to end affirmative action in state higher education, employment, and contracting.

In response to the Florida board of regents decision to end affirmative action in February, the NAACP has filed a lawsuit against the implementation of Florida’s new policy banning affirmative action in state university admissions. This lawsuit may delay the implementation of the “One Florida Initiative,” however some schools have already eliminated the consideration of race in considering applications for the fall 2000 class. Many in Florida have vowed to make the elimination of affirmative action and criticisms of the governor’s plan an election issue in the November elections.

Elsewhere in the nation, the University of Michigan defended it’s law school admissions process as the district court in Michigan began hearings on the anti-affirmative action case brought by the conservative Center for Individual Rights in 1997. Students from Michigan campuses, including the University of Michigan Ann Arbor and students from Michigan State University were at the courthouse on the opening day of the case to protest the attack on affirmative action, and to support the continuation of race as one of several factors considered in the admissions process.

New figures coming out of states like California and Texas show an overall system-wide increase in the number of students of color enrolled. However, upon further analysis, schools such as UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles), UC Berkeley, and UT Austin have not regained the number of students of color enrolled before the end of affirmative action in those states.

Students at the UCLA Law School walked out in protest in November, citing the drastic decline of students of color in the law school after the elimination of affirmative action. There were only two black students and one Native American student enrolled in this past fall’s incoming class.

Court cases regarding the use of affirmative action and desegregation processes in public high schools continue to dominate the landscape. In March, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court’s decision to bar a Maryland public school system from considering race in weighing students transfer requests to achieve racial balance. Thus, without explanation, the Court rejected the appeal from a ruling by the Fourth Circuit of Appeals focusing mainly on the Montgomery County School system’s affirmative action policy. The Fourth Circuit covers Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

In nearby Virginia, the University of Virginia (UVA) is dealing with a 25% decrease in the number of Black applicants since it altered its admissions process that de-emphasized the use of race in admissions. UVA had the top ranking among majority white institutions in graduating the highest percentage of their African American students. It’s yet to be determined how these figures will affect graduation and retention rates at UVA.

In the Rocky Mountain region, Colorado students have worked with the Colorado Progressive Coalition and a coalition of labor, community, civil rights, and minority and women’s business leaders to protest the end of affirmative action in Denver’s contracting with women and people of color owned businesses. A federal judge ruled in March against the use of race and gender in the city’s consideration of who to contract with on construction projects. The ruling was based on a case brought by a white contractor who argued that his rights were violated by a program that encouraged “good faith” efforts in including minorities and women in competing for city contracts. These good faith efforts included flexible goals of 10% contracts for women and minorities. The community is encouraging the Mayor to appeal the court decision.

Jennifer Lin is director of the Student of Color Campus Diversity Project, U.S. Student Association

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Published in In Motion Magazine June 2, 2000.