College officials pleased with court ruling

June 25, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

Officials with several Tri-State area colleges said Tuesday they were pleased with the Supreme Court's decision that colleges may pick their students based in part on race.

The high court's opinion won't affect admission policies for those colleges because they don't give a lot of weight to race when choosing which students to admit, officials said.

The Supreme Court ruled Monday, in a 5-4 decision, that colleges may use race as a factor in the admissions process, but it cannot be the only factor.


However, the court ruled in a 6-3 decision that the point system the University of Michigan's undergraduate school uses is unconstitutional. The university awarded 20 points to minorities out of a possible total score of 150.

Race is not a major factor in determining admission at Shepherd College in Jefferson County, W.Va., Director of Admissions Karl Wolf said.

"In many cases, we don't know a student's race when we're making a decision," Wolf said. Sometimes admissions officials can tell by a person's name or where they are coming from if the applicant is a minority, but that is not always true, he said.

Officials with Shepherd College, Shippensburg University, Mount St. Mary's College, Wilson College, Hagerstown Business College and Hagerstown Community College said their schools do not use a point system.

Shepherd and Shippensburg officials said they may consider race among many factors, but it is not a major factor in determining admission.

"We look at race along with everything else, in much the same way the Michigan law school does," said Pat Spakes, Shippensburg's provost and vice president for academic affairs.

Other factors include SAT score, high school class ranking and athletic ability, Spakes said.

Race isn't a factor in admissions at Hagerstown Business College and Mount St. Mary's College, HBC Director of Admissions Kerry Burton and the Mount's provost, Carol Hinds, said.

Just as Shepherd and Wilson College do, Mount St. Mary's recruits minority students by going to geographic areas or schools with higher minority populations in attempts to improve the diversity of their own student bodies, officials said.

Wilson College President Lorna Edmundson said college officials believe the best way to educate people is to do so in an environment that reflects the nation and world's demographics.

"We do that by going out, doing our recruiting around the country in places where we know we can find people of all backgrounds, races, cultures," Edmundson said.

Keith Wheaton, president of the Berkeley County, W.Va., NAACP branch, said he thinks the court's rulings are the beginning of the end for affirmative action, especially if President Bush gets to appoint two justices during his term.

Wheaton said he is concerned the court's rulings may lead colleges and businesses to narrowly tailor their admissions and hiring practices for minorities.

Many colleges have only started admitting minority students in the last 40 years, and there still isn't a level playing field, Wheaton said.

Taylor Perry, past president of the NAACP's Berkeley County branch, agreed there isn't a level playing field. He said he hopes that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was right when she wrote "We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary."

If more minorities encourage their children to go to college and that continues through the generations, the playing field may level, Perry said.

"I think that a majority of people in this country believe in some kind of action to help schools achieve diversity. Maybe in 25 years we won't need this as a goal to strive for," Mount St. Mary's Hinds said.

Thomas Segar, Shepherd's director of multicultural student affairs and disability support services, said the court's ruling speaks volumes about "what we need to be doing as a country," not just for students, but for employment.

"We need to be intentional about creating a diverse body, whether it's students, employees," Segar said.

It can be difficult for colleges to attract qualified candidates of any color, but that's something the college should continue to work towards, Segar said.

The court's decision does not affect Hagerstown Community College's admissions policy because, as a community college, HCC has an open-door admissions policy, said Dave Cole, director of student services.

However, it's an issue that could affect many HCC students who go on to transfer to four-year institutions.

HCC sophomore Durrell Blake said he thought the court's ruling was weak because it "didn't really lay down any new policy."

Blake said he was disappointed because he wanted the justices to lay out a road map for affirmative action, its purpose, its future and how it should affect society.

"I think that it's a shame that we live in a country where we need affirmative action to ensure that minorities are afforded equal opportunities to be a part of things," Blake said.

Blake, 20, of Hagerstown, said he doesn't always mark his race when given the opportunity.

"I don't want someone to hire me because I'm black, but at the same time how do I know I won't get an equal opportunity?" Blake asked.

Blake said he did mark his race on his college application to the University of Maryland at College Park, which he attended before going to HCC. He said he did so for financial aid reasons and because it gave weight to the subject of his entrance essay - diversity.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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