Supreme Court must not neglect diverse college needs

A student is more than a grade-point average. A student is more than an ACT score. A student is more than just black or white.

If the U.S. Supreme Court upholds Michigan voters’ decision to ban affirmative action, university trustees and board members’ rights to tailor admissions policies to the needs of disadvantaged potential students could be lost.

The justices should uphold the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling to overturn the statewide ban on affirmative action. In 2006, Michigan began a battle that has now spread to the highest court, and threatens the freedom of individual public universities to cater admissions policies to local needs. That vote never should have happened.

Editorial Board

Ian Kullgren
Summer Ballentine
Celeste Bott
Anya Rath
Micaela Colonna

Proponents of the ban argue that voters should have the right to decide on an issue as important as affirmative action. We agree.

In fact, voters already had that option. Every public university trustee is elected to office by a statewide vote. If citizens do not agree with affirmative action at MSU or the University of Michigan, they could have gradually changed the policy by electing officials who share their view.

To some extent, we agree with affirmative action opponents — the Supreme Court should not be charged with solving this highly divisive political issue. But we also believe it is dangerous to leave an issue of such gravity up to one sweeping vote. We would not be in this mess if that had not happened in the first place.

The entire country now is faced with a Supreme Court decision that could open the floodgates to similar damaging bans. This case could open the door for states to strike down any use of race in public university admissions.

Sorting out the nuances of inclusion should be up to each university, depending on their individual needs.

Inadequate representation of black students might be an issue that needs to be addressed at MSU, but a university in rural Ohio might need to focus its efforts toward helping equally underprivileged white students from Appalachia.

It’s a dangerous line to draw. Allowing statewide bans to stand would have a chilling effect on minority enrollment across the nation, as it has here at MSU.

Since the ban, MSU has ramped up recruitment in geographic areas such as Detroit and uses socioeconomic status as a factor in admissions. But as Paulette Granberry Russell, senior adviser to the president for diversity and director of the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, correctly said, there’s no evidence to show those methods are anywhere near as effective as considering race.

What’s most telling is the disturbing drop in black student enrollment at MSU.

Enrollment for black undergraduates has dropped about 17 percent since voters banned affirmative action, according to university data.

That’s compared to a 10 percent increase in enrollment overall across the state, according to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Those in favor of the ban argue that race is behind us — that this isn’t the 1960s, and with the strides we’ve made, including electing our first black president, race no longer is a disadvantage in society.

But the fact that there has been such a drastic drop in black students at MSU proves that we are not a post-racial society, even if race is not necessarily directly tied to social inequality now.

The simple fact that bathrooms are not segregated anymore does not mean everyone has the same opportunities to succeed, especially when it comes to higher education.

Now more than ever, a degree is a necessary step to a better life. It’s irresponsible to turn our backs on inequality — possibly caused by race, but also by factors such as household income, family background and geography — and pretend that an ACT score or class rank is enough to judge whether someone is fit to study at MSU and become part of the Spartan family.

A well-penned essay could tell a student’s story better than any number, but it’s also not enough to promote diversity on campus.

Policies are necessary to ensure factors such as socioeconomic background are taken into account during the admissions process, and active recruiting like MSU’s is vital to maintaining minority enrollment.

So let’s hope the justices uphold the previous ruling.

Because diversity in family income, beliefs, culture and yes, race, is something we should take pride in as Spartans.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The State News.