Following a Supreme Court ruling that struck down undergraduate admissions policies at the University of Michigan that gave racial minorities “points” towards admission, Portland State administrators said PSU’s admission decisions need not be amended.
“It will have no effect on us and no effect on the Oregon University System,” said Douglas Samuels, vice provost for student affairs at PSU.
By a vote of 6-3, the nation’s highest court found that the admissions policies, which gave 20 points of a total 150 to racial minorities, did not meet the criteria of “individualized consideration” required by regents of the University of California v. Bakke.
According to Samuels, admissions at PSU is race-blind in most cases. Nearly all first-time freshman are admitted by meeting a minimum baseline of GPA, test scores, or some combination of both.
While some candidates who do not make the cut are reconsidered by a faculty board that does take race into account, this board does so on a case-by-case basis without any particular formula.
This approach is supported by another ruling, issued the same day, that found admissions into the University of Michigan’s law program, which takes race into consideration without quotas or an explicit formula, acceptable.
In making this determination, the court found racial diversity to be a “compelling government interest,” in accordance with Justice Michael Powell’s 1978 Bakke opinion.
The aims of diversity have resonated beyond government, said PSU administrator Samuels.
Race is still a factor in many decisions in the corporate and business worlds,” he said.
The decision was widely hailed as an important victory by affirmative-action supporters.
“I think it will help realize the goals of diversity,” said Burt Christopherson, director of the affirmative action office at PSU. “It’s just another reminder that if you’re going to use criteria to select between equally qualified applicants, you have to look at each individual applicant.”
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, writing for the majority in the law school case, noted that affirmative action was a temporary measure that would likely need to be re-examined 25 years from now.
Samuels wondered if that might be an optimistic view. “It’s been 50 years since Brown v. Board of Education,” he said. The landmark case overturned segregated schooling in 1954.
“In America, we’re still arguing over how to make our schools equal,” he said.