No victory is permanent.These are
the words of John Payton, lead counsel on Michigans
legal defense team in its affirmative action suits. At a lecture
earlier this fall, Mr. Payton shared his experience in the
Michigan lawsuits, emphasizing the spirit of optimism engendered
by the victory. But, he cautioned, this victory should not
be squandered. To ensure that tomorrow we continue to enjoy
the gains made today, we must remain vigilant.
Racial segregation in schools was ruled unconstitutional
nearly fifty years ago. The Brown decision galvanized the
struggle for equality of educational opportunity, but it has
been eroded over time by opponents of affirmative action.
With only modest gains made towards integration some twenty
years after the decision, the incorporation of race in education
has once again been legally challenged. In the Baake case,
the Supreme Court upheld the use of race, with Justice Powell
arguing that it was justified by the educational benefits
derived from diversity. There was no evidence, however, to
back up this claim at the time, and according to Mr. Payton,
some believed that Powell was simply making it up.
Affirmative action opponents then began strategizing
to eliminate all use of race in admissions systems, starting
with the Hopwood case in Texas and attempting to expand their
Hopwood achievement with the case against Michigan. To build
its defense, Michigan assembled top scholars and researchers
to provide solid evidence on the educational benefits. The
plaintiffs in the case did not challenge the experts
findings. Moreover, corporations, universities and a number
of organizations supported Michigans defense by attesting
to the rewards of diversity in education. Equally telling
is the fact that not a single corporation filed an amicus
brief in support of the plaintiffs. As Payton described in
his talk, the theoretical benefits of diversity
on which Baake rests are now proven benefits acknowledged
across broad sectors of society.
This achievement of the Michigan case is not
to be underestimated. Fortified with scientific evidence and
legally sanctioned by the Supreme Court, those who are committed
to diversity must heed John Paytons call to vigilance.
The need for targeted intervention to increase Latino participation
in higher education is particularly urgent.
According to a report by the US Department of
Educations National Center for Education Statistics,
just 22 percent of U.S. Hispanics aged 18-24 years enrolled
in college in 2000, compared to 39 percent of Whites and 31
percent of Blacks. The gap in degree completion for Hispanics
aged 25 to 29 is even more striking. In 2000, 10 percent of
Hispanics had completed college, while 34 percent of their
White counterparts held college degrees. Moreover, the rates
of college completion increased for both Whites and Blacks
between 1990 and 2000, but Hispanics did not experience increases
during this period. As the nations fastest growing minority
population, Latin@s must participate fully in contributing
to and reaping the benefits of diversity in higher education.
To be sure, the obstacles to Hispanic educational achievement
reach far beyond the purview of our universities. Hypersegregation,
concentration of poverty, high drop out rates, and language
barriers all contribute to low college participation rates.
For this reason, we must take care to ensure that the OSU
gates remain open to Latin@s, that we do all we can to promote
Latino success, and that we enjoy the full benefits of the
diversity that Latin@s bring to our campus. Over the past
ten years, Hispanics at OSU have experienced increases in
enrollment, retention and graduation rates. OSUs efforts
to provide scholarships, financial aid, and retention services
to support Hispanic students have not gone unrewarded.
Despite the victory that we should be celebrating,
there is a mood of apprehension and caution tempering our
optimism. The Court decision upheld the principle of affirmative
action while offering stricter guidance on its application.
We must scrutinize our programs to put them on safe legal
ground. But let us not squander the opportunities won through
the Michigan struggle. It is time for open dialogue about
how OSU will respond to the challenges and opportunities of
the moment. There is much good work to be done. Let us take
up the task together.