The National Association of Scholars (NAS), in conjunction with the Center for Equal Opportunity and the Center for Individual Rights, has enlisted its state chapters in a to use state open records laws to force selective public colleges and and universities to release information on their use of race and ethnicity in admissions. So far letters have been sent to colleges in 20 states.
NAS Executive Director Bradford Wilson stated in a press release:
Our purpose is to bring this information into the light of public scrutiny. The Gratz and Grutter decisions did not give universities a blank check to discriminate. They set demanding standards with which universities must comply before they can make decisions based on the race and ethnicity of applicants. But Gratz and Grutter aside, taxpaying citizens and their elected representatives still have every right to know precisely how applicants are being treated by publicly funded institutions, and whether or not these institutions discriminate on the grounds of ancestry or skin color. That is what these freedom-of-information requests are designed to discover and publicize.
“Sunshine laws” notwithstanding, past experience illustrates that documentation requests, such as those now coming from our state affiliates, are often met with delay and evasion from university officials. We intend to persevere, however, since public universities must be strictly accountable when questions of basic fairness are involved.
A sample letter is attached to the press release. It requests, in part:
Any statements or discussions of university policies, practices, or procedures, formal or informal, relating to the use of racial and ethnic considerations in admissions to or eligibility for any undergraduate, graduate, or professional school program, activity, or benefit. Such information should include but is not limited to:
(a) groups for which membership is considered a plus factor or a minus factor and, in addition, how membership in a group is determined for individual students;
(b) how group membership is considered, including the weight given to such consideration and whether targets, goals, or quotas are used;
(c) why group membership is considered (including the determination of the critical-mass level and relationship to the particular institution’s educational mission with respect to the diversity rationale);
(d) what consideration has been given to neutral alternatives as a means for achieving the same goals for which group membership is considered;
(e) how frequently the need to consider group membership is reassessed and how that reassessment is conducted;
As quoted in an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Sheldon E. Steinbach, vice president and general counsel of the American Council on Education, calls the request for this information “patent, senseless harassment.”
Curt Levey, director of legal and public affairs for the Center for Individual Rights, replied that “Schools do fight pretty hard not to disclose this data. That tells you, obviously, that they have something to hide.” Indeed they do. The best protection for racial preference programs is public ignorance of their nature and extent.
Of course it’s not surprising that ACE and Steinbach would fight the release of racial preference data. On behalf of ACE and other higher education organizations Steinbach filed a brief supporting Michigan’s use the the 20 bonus points for race. As I pointed out here, Steinbach stated in a press release about his brief that ACE and he
feel very strongly that each institution should be able to decide for itself what the best path to diversity is, and then to take that path without interference. The outcome of this case will tell colleges and universities if they will be able to continue to make these decisions individually, or whether restrictions and guidelines will be imposed from the outside.
As an observer (I confess: it was I) said of this comment at the time, “George Wallace couldn’t have said it better.”