Affirmative Action Reaction

In a class action suit filed this past Monday, thousands of individuals who say they were unfairly denied college admission 30 years ago in favor of less qualified applicants are suing Yale College and the President of the United States.

The suit alleges that Asian Americans, African Americans, Native Americans, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Catholics, Hindus, Sikhs, and women of all races, religions, proportions and colors, were unfairly discriminated against by an affirmative action program in effect at Yale at that time, which admitted sons and grandsons of alumni as "legacies," whether or not they met the stringent criteria for admission.

In point of fact, the main admissions requirements for Yale College legacies were the ability to walk and chew gum more or less at the same time, eat with a knife and fork without dribbling, read and write at 3rd grade level or above, open a good bottle of wine without letting pieces of cork drop in, and looking presentable in a navy blue blazer with gold buttons.

The average SAT scores for freshmen entering Yale in Mr. Bush's class, the Class of 1968, were 670 Verbal, 705 Math. Mr. Bush scored 566 on the Verbal and 640 on the Math, scores which placed him in the 84% percentile. Barring the unlikely possibility that young Bush wrote an essay of National Book Award quality, SAT scores in the top 16% would not have gained him admission to Yale on his own merit. Mr. Bush has defended his academic record, reminding us that he endorses affirmative action as long as it is utilized by friends, relatives, and business associates to give favorable treatment to those less qualified applicants who were too busy cheerleading and partying to really crack the books in prep school.

In explaining his defense of the legacy policy, Mr. Bush said that his administration will urge the courts to uphold the admissions policies at Yale, saying that there is no better way to achieve racial uniformity in higher education. In legal briefs filed yesterday, he extolled these so-called favorite son plans, describing them as "a tested and popular way" to ensure the primacy of the upper classes, especially now that they are an endangered cultural and economic minority. In the past, Mr. Bush has endorsed the so-called percentage plan, enacted when he was the governor of Texas, which allows the top 10% of graduating high school seniors to attend state universities no matter "how bad their high schools or how low their SAT scores." Unfortunately, not only would Mr. Bush have been denied admission to Yale on the basis of his high school record, but under the percentage plan, he would not have gotten into a state college or university in Texas. Undeterred by that fact, Bush told reporters in the Roosevelt Room on Tuesday that there are clearly constitutional means to further affirmative action through family connections. There are ways to utilize nepotism, which I have put in place as the governor of Texas, that will lead the courts to "define the outer limits of the Constitution."

Bush also declared last week that admission policies currently utilized by the University of Michigan are clearly unconstitutional because they fail to take into account nepotism, cronyism, and primogeniture. But he skirted the larger question of whether family connections should ever be considered a factor in government decisions.

Republican strategists close to the White House have said that Mr. Bush's position is a result of trying to please "anti-affirmative action conservatives" while still taking advantage of the privileges of birth.

And in a related story, a suit has been brought by hundreds of former business school applicants with college grade point averages significantly higher than Mr. Bush's C, who were denied admission to the MBA program at Harvard. Named as co-defendants are Harvard University, the Princeton Review, Kaplan Educational Centers and various other SAT and GRE tutoring services, the publisher of Cliff Notes, and George H.W.Bush, who allegedly put in a few good words for his boy. The Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it will hear oral arguments on April 1. The court will hear the two cases back to back that day, one challenging the Yale's undergraduate admissions policies and the other challenging the MBA admissions standards at Harvard Business School.

Mr. Bush declined to comment on whether preferential treatment should be used in the future as a factor in college admissions. In sidestepping the issue, Bush said it is up to his friends on the Supreme Court to settle the question, and he is confident that they will make the right decision.

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