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Berkeley Admission Policy Voided

By Mary Jordan
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

An admissions policy that gave special treatment to minority candidates at the law school of the University of California at Berkeley violated federal law, the Department of Education announced Monday.

Assistant Secretary Michael L. Williams, head of the department's Office for Civil Rights, said the law school has agreed to change its policy of placing minority candidates into tracks so that they competed only with members of their minority group for admission.

For the past 14 years, the school has consistently admitted between 23 percent and 27 percent of each class from minority groups. The school receives between 4,000 and 6,000 applications annually and selects an entering class of about 270.

"African Americans only competed against African Americans and Hispanics only competed against Hispanics," said Williams, who added that "the broad message" of the decision was that "it behooved all schools" to reexamine admission policies to see if they amounted to racial quotas.

Williams, who stirred a national controversy when he declared in late 1990 that most race-specific scholarships were illegal, said he did not know how many other universities or law schools had similar policies.

Herma Hill Kay, dean of the law school, denied the admission policy violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits federally funded institutions from discriminating on the basis of race or national origin. "We are proud of this policy," she said.

According to the agreement, the school will not base its admissions decisions "solely on race, color or national origin," nor will its applicants be considered separately according to race.

Also, the agreement explicitly states that no seats are to be set aside for minority applicants.

"If achieving a diverse student population is determined to be an educational objective" the agreement stated, "diversity considerations will not be limited to race, color or national origin, but will include a variety of diversity factors deemed important to establishing a diverse educational environment."

The Office for Civil Rights said the finding in the Berkeley case does not prohibit special consideration being given to minorities in response to official findings of past discrimination. Also, it said special recruiting efforts to encourage a "broad pool of minority applicants" were not prohibited by this decision.

But Robert Atwell, president of the American Council on Education, the largest group representing institutions of higher learning, called the decision a "real blow to the efforts to achieve racial diversity."

Atwell said this decision, like the one that sought to outlaw many minority scholarships, was another example of "the direction (the Bush administration) has been going toward restrictive readings" of rulings surrounding affirmative action.

According to a statement from the law school, it reexamined its admission policy after the 1978 Supreme Court decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke to ensure it did not include strict racial quotas.

Williams said that while the school "did not have an exact written quota," its practices amounted to one. He also said he believed this was the first time the Education Department found a violation of Title VI in the admission procedures of a university or graduate school.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., who had urged the investigation after an Asian student who applied to the law school received a letter essentially saying she was on the "Asian waiting list," applauded the decision.

He condemned the racial "goals" that Berkeley established, which included 5 to 7 percent Asians and 8 to 10 percent blacks.

"It was racist and the hardest hit were Asian Americans, and to some degree Caucasian Americans," he said.