Students to join rally at Supreme Court

By Paul H. Johnson The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) (KRT) HACKENSACK, N.J. _ When tens of thousands of high school and college students converge on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, Eric Adisa of South Orange, N.J., will be with them to rally in support of affirmative action. “I just think it’s still a necessary program,” said Adisa, a senior at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. “Maybe the programs need to be modified, but I think they’re still necessary.” As the Supreme Court begins hearing arguments in two cases involving the University of Michigan and its law school, the outcome of which could change the way colleges and universities around the nation admit minorities, some students are taking to the streets to voice their support for affirmative action. The march is being organized by the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action ‘ Integration and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary, the group that includes the student defendants in the Michigan affirmative action cases. “It’s necessary to rebuild the fight in this country for integration and equality and in order to convince the Supreme Court upholding affirmative action is 100 percent necessary,” said Adam Lerman, national outreach coordinator for the coalition. At stake in the Michigan case are the methods used by colleges and universities over the past 25 years to admit minorities, particularly African-Americans and Hispanics. Although the Supreme Court’s ruling expected later this spring will address a complaint against a public university, it will dictate policy at any private university that accepts government money, which means almost every college and university in the nation. “America today is wholly unequal racially and in terms of gender. Our society needs to acknowledge the inequality and discrimination that remains today and do something consciously to offset those inequalities,” Lerman said. “We have to convince the court that the thing to do is uphold affirmative action.” Adisa said between 150 and 200 students from Rutgers will travel with him to Washington. The last time the Supreme Court addressed affirmative action in college admissions was in 1978 after Alan Bakke sued the University of California, saying it denied him entry to the medical school in favor of a minority candidate with lower scores. The court ruled in the Bakke decision that the University of California admissions system, which set aside a fixed number of seats for minority students, was illegal. But writing the majority opinion, Justice Lewis Powell said that universities and colleges could use race as one of several factors in admissions. In the Michigan case, separate lawsuits challenge the university’s undergraduate and law school admission processes. “It’s really the law school case that is the key one,” said Charles Sims, a partner at the law firm of Proskauer Rose LLP, which has offices in New York and Newark. He wrote a friend of the court brief for a coalition of 30 small liberal arts colleges. He said the law school’s admission criteria, which take into account all of a candidates’ qualifications, including race, are similar to the ones used by the more competitive colleges and universities. He said Michigan’s undergraduate admissions process, in which students are assigned numerical points if they are minority members or children of alumni, for example, is rarely used. Dozens of schools, including Princeton, have filed friend of the court briefs in the Michigan case. Legal analysts said that many of these schools argue that the number of minorities at the nation’s top colleges and universities will shrink dramatically if the court rules that race cannot be used as a factor in college admissions. “Given the current structure of K-12 education, it’s very hard to get a diverse student population in college and certainly in graduate and professional school without aggressive affirmative action policies,” said Mark Rahdert, associate dean and professor of law at Temple University in Philadelphia. But opponents of affirmative action argue that any consideration of race is wrong, and they suggest that Michigan’s policies amount to quotas, which are banned by the Supreme Court. “At their core, the Michigan policies amount to a quota system that unfairly rewards or penalizes prospective students, based solely on their race,” said President Bush, who took a strong stance against affirmative action in remarks on Martin Luther King’s birthday in January. “The motivation for such an admissions policy may be very good, but its result is discrimination, and that discrimination is wrong,” Bush said. Bush said some states _ such as Florida, Texas, and California _ use programs based on a student’s high school rank and grade-point average instead of test scores to admit students. The Texas model, for example, guarantees admission to the state university system to all students who graduate at the top 10 percent in their schools. Rahdert said those programs are troubling because they benefit minority students only when the high schools are all black, Hispanic, Native American, or other minority. “It kind of validates the effects of racial segregation in education,” he said. Rahdert said the court could take many actions when it rules on the two Michigan cases, but the key part of the ruling will be whether it allows race to continue being used as a factor in admissions. “I think the case is going to turn primarily on whether diversity in the student body is a sufficiently important government interest to use race-conscious measures and whether race-conscious measures can be used to achieve diversity,” Rahdert said. ___ ‘copy 2003, The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) Visit The Record Online at Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.