2003-01-25 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

I don’t think there are many people who read The Wave who believe that being Black is a better predictor of college excellence than getting a perfect 1600 on the College Boards.

According to a recent poll, eight-five percent of those Black people who responded said that it is wrong for the University of Michigan to give 20 points towards admission to minority candidates while giving a minority candidate 20 points strictly for being a minority. In another poll, 92 percent of the adults questioned said that college admissions, promotion and hiring should be done strictly on merit, that race should play no part.

Michigan utilizes a point system for admissions. A high school grade point of 2.5, for example earns a candidate 50 points while a grade point of 4.0 (a perfect score) gets 80 points. An outstanding essay earns one point. If the candidate is the child of a Michigan graduate, he or she earns an extra four points. If the graduate comes from a "top quality school," he or she gets five extra points. If the candidate comes from a "school with a sub-par curriculum," he or she loses four points.

A Black, Hispanic or Native American candidate gets 20 points automatically, as does a scholarship athlete. A male nursing candidate gets five extra points.

The top score a candidate can get is 150 points and 100 points usually guarantees admission.

What does that all mean?

Let’s take an example, a White student and a Black student coming from Beach Channel High School applying to Michigan.

This is a hypothetical situation and all of the statistics come from my head, not from any reality.

The White Student, Jane, has a 3.8 grade point average (73 points). She got a perfect 1600 on the SAT test (12 points). She does an outstanding essay (one point) and is the daughter of a Michigan graduate (four points).

Jane has 89 points. She will be rejected.

Robert is Black. His grade point average is 3.0 (62 points). He got a 1450 on the SAT’s (11 points).
Because he made All-City in basketball (he still is not good enough for a scholarship to Michigan), he gets five points for a "personal achievement." He too is the child of a graduate (four points) and a minority (20 points).

Robert now has 102 points. He is accepted at Michigan.

Do both Jane and Robert deserve to go to college? Of course they do. Does Robert deserve to be admitted and does Jane deserve to be rejected? Of course not.

Robert will be accepted because of Michigan’s "Affirmative Action" program, a program designed to promote diversity in the university community.

Is the goal of creating diversity one that should override Jane’s rights to be treated equally with Robert? That is a question that the U.S. Supreme Court will tussle with in its upcoming session.

If I were on the court, the answer would be clear.

Absent proof that Jane or her family had been involved in insuring that Black people were kept in a subservient capacity, kept out of college, kept out of an industry, I would find for Jane.

She deserved to get into Michigan and she was discriminated against by the school’s affirmative action program.

You don’t redress one person’s rights by trampling on somebody else’s rights.

It is as simple at that.

Actually, I was once a victim of affirmative action.

I was working for Xerox Education Publications (XEP) in the late 1970’s. Xerox has just been socked by the government with a law suit for not hiring a sufficient number of women or minorities.

The company’s machine division was mostly male, mostly White. The powers-that-be did not want that to change.

XEP, however, the division that published Weekly Reader, Current Events, Current Science and a host of other school publications, was led by a woman and had many female editors.

The corporation’s leaders, however, had to find a way to cut male employees and to hire more minorities and women.

They did it by firing every White male editor at XEP in one day and replacing them with women and minorities.

"This is not a really big cut in terms of the corporation," a Human Resources person told me at the time.

"For me, this is total," I answered.

More than forty people were cut that day. There was not one woman. There was not one minority, male or female.

That helped the corporation to make its quota and it was happy.

I was told by a Black male colleague that I should not be angry, that it was time for "his people to have a chance at the jobs."

I asked him what I had done to deserve to be dumped so that a Black person or a woman could have my job.

He pointed to slavery, to the Jim Crow Laws, to the glass ceiling.

I told him that when slavery was prevalent in America, my ancestors were being cut to pieces by sabers wielded by the Cossacks. I told him that my relatives did not come to America until long after slavery was gone, that they had nothing to do with the South or the Jim Crow Laws.

It did not matter, he told me. I am White and I had to bear the burden.

I will never believe that.

I think that Texas does it right (I never thought that I would write those words).

In Texas, and in several other states as well, any student who falls within the top percentile (some places four percent, others, 10 percent) has earned admission to a state university.

Most of the high schools in New York City, including both Far Rockaway High School and Beach Channel High School are made up mostly of minorities.

If New York State were to guarantee that the top ten percent of the graduates from each high school in the state would be guaranteed admission to state schools, that would go the distance in bringing diversity to those schools. The city could do no less.

I believe in equality and I believe in the U.S. Constitution.

I do not believe that the Constitution allows for discrimination against one class of people in order to redress the harm done to another class of people.

Will the Supreme Court agree? I believe that it will. That, however, remains to be seen.

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