A conservative public policy group has launched an advertising campaign this week in college newspapers that claims some major universities illegally use racial preference in admissions.
The ad, which appears in The GW Hatchet and 14 other college newspapers, is sponsored by the Washington-based Center for Individual Rights and claims colleges are “Guilty by Admission” for considering race in making admissions decisions. It urges students and university trustees to download a handbook so they can investigate whether their own college breaks the law.
CIR claims race consideration is illegal because of a 1978 U.S. Supreme Court decision. The decision said schools could not set aside a certain number of positions for minority students but could use race to choose between candidates with similar credentials.
“The debate on racial preference has shifted in the last year,” said Terrence Pell, senior counsel for CIR. “It is being used to boost minority enrollment and that is an unconstitutional purpose.”
He said evidence shows that many schools use racial indicators to guarantee a diverse student body.
“The Constitution guarantees citizens equal treatment under the law – regardless of race, color or creed,” said William J. Bennett, co-director of Empower America and former secretary of education, in a press release. “Students applying to America’s leading colleges and universities need to know their rights; and trustees need to pay attention to something that could bring serious consequences upon them personally, as well as upon their institutions.”
Pell said university administrators and trustees are being held personally liable for admission law violations.
GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said he felt the advertising campaign was “over the top.”
“The issue is becoming increasingly obsolete,” Trachtenberg said. “These guys are a day late and a dollar short.”
Trachtenberg said he believes in equal justice and points to the 21st Century Scholars program at GW, which provides scholarships to D.C. high school students.
“I believe we should provide all Americans an opportunity to get the maximum amount of high quality education,” he said.
Trachtenberg said the topic of racial preference in admissions is a complicated one, without a simple yes or no answer. He said he has no concerns that GW violates the law with its admissions practices.
Other schools where the ad ran include Columbia, Dartmouth and Duke universities, and the University of North Carolina. No other District schools were selected. Pell said newspapers were chosen to reach a wide audience.
“We don’t know where there will be a lot of interest, so we picked different schools across the country,” Pell said. “We’ll see what the reaction is and see where we want to pursue new ads.”
Pell said none of the schools chosen were selected because of specific evidence of violations in admission processes.
CIR has been involved in several court cases on the issue of race and admissions. CIR was plaintiff’s counsel for the 1995 Supreme Court ruling Hopwood v. Texas, which eliminated racial preferences at the University of Texas’ law school. It currently has cases pending at law schools at the University of Washington and University of Michigan, and undergraduate schools at Michigan.