Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


A case about race

In a landmark victory for all students, the Supreme Court ruled
that affirmative action is both constitutional and necessary so
long as the process is narrowly tailored and doesn’t consider race
as the definitive factor. Reaffirming the principles of Bakke v.
The University of California Board of Regents
, the Court
recognized the value of a diverse society and workforce and ruled
there is a compelling state interest in fostering diversity. Based
on this criterion, the University of Michigan’s undergraduate point
system was struck down as too rigid and mechanical, while
Michigan’s law school individualized admissions approach was

Debunking a
common affirmative action myth, the Court asserted that all of the
accepted applicants were more than qualified. The fundamental issue
with the point system wasn’t that it admitted under-qualified
applicants, but rather that it was too racially skewed, making
admission virtually guaranteed for qualified applicants of color.
The constitutional issue here is one of process, not principle.

the Court went even further than in Bakke, arguing that
beyond rectifying past and ongoing discrimination, there is genuine
value in diversity for universities, businesses, government, and
the military. We live in an increasingly multi-racial,
multi-ethnic, and global world. Numerous business studies show that
diverse work teams resolve problems more quickly and creatively.
Additionally, beyond understanding the importance of global trade,
businesses recognize that people of color, women and the LGBT
community are growing markets that are essential to future success.
The bottom line is that we need to recognize the increasingly
diverse world around us.


The Supreme
Court has resolved the constitutional issue of affirmative action
for now, but where does that leave the rest of America? When it
comes to affirmative action we have a split Supreme Court, a
divided public and a fence-riding President, begging the question:
What was this case really about? And where do we go from here?

In the media,
classrooms and the courts, the Michigan cases have been made out to
be about a lot of different things. Some said it was about the
principle of affirmative action; others contended it was a case
about university admissions. A few argued it was about the
Constitution. But above all of those things, it was about race.

Throughout the
debate, I didn’t hear anyone talking about the tremendous impact
affirmative action has had on white women, who now make up over 50
percent of colleges students and are increasingly represented in
the highest levels of corporate and political America.

And while we
talked about ‘factors’ in admissions, no one talked about the role
of athletics in the admissions process. No one mentioned legacy
students who were accepted because their parents are alumni. I
didn’t hear one statement about children of big donors getting
accepted at prestigious schools. And no one talked about how
schools consider national and statewide geography when developing
their freshman classes.

No, all that
people talked about was race.

In some ways,
maybe that was good. We need to talk more about race in this
country—and I don’t mean rehashing tired political rhetoric.
We need to be talking about why universities struggle to recruit
and retain students of color and why it is taking students of color
longer to graduate than their white counterparts. We never talk
about the barriers that people of color are facing and what we
should be doing about it.

The Court was
pretty clear that building genuine diversity isn’t a formulaic
process of quotas and point systems. Instead, it takes a commitment
to engage in a diverse and ever changing world. For the University
of Wisconsin, that means affirmative action in admissions,
pre-college programming, and campus events like the student shadow

For students
that could mean studying abroad, attending campus cultural events,
or taking ethnic studies classes—all of which are important
because they build a more diverse campus experience. However, those
are also the things we always talk about on campus when we talk
about diversity, and I can only imagine how your eyes glaze over as
you read this paragraph thinking I am just another lefty preaching
about diversity.

Racial equality
isn’t going to come about just from Supreme Court rulings, and it
won’t happen because of politicians or activists. It starts with us
making a commitment to diversity in our daily lives—meeting
new people, talking about difficult issues and learning to
appreciate differences.

The reality is
that moving forward on race issues in this country is going to take
hard work and proactive steps. We can’t erase 250 years of
systematic discrimination overnight. Just as the Court reaffirmed
its commitment to diversity, we have an obligation to do the same.
Affirmative action is not simple or universal answer to America’s
racial problems, but it is a good step forward. Now we have the
responsibility to take the next step.

Jeff Pertl
([email protected])
is the president of United Council and a 2002 UW-Madison

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