A Path to Resegregation

by Shanta Driver | 1/20/03 6:00am

By urging the U.S. Supreme Court to outlaw affirmative action, the Bush administration is playing a front line role in the assault on integration in education. Without active "race-conscious" measures the University of Michigan, its law school and selective higher education across the country will be resegregated. The University of Michigan Law School, for example, is projecting a 73 percent drop in black student enrollment if its affirmative action program is eliminated. Separate and unequal educational opportunity based on race will define education from kindergarten through graduate and professional schools. Without active integrationist measures like affirmative action, Brown v. Board of Education, for all practical purposes, will be dead.

It is pure cynicism and hypocrisy for Bush to praise diversity out of one side of his mouth while urging the U.S. Supreme Court to outlaw the actual programs that have desegregated higher education in America out of the other. The Bush administration, following the lead of Trent Lott, is now making its own segregationist mistake.

In his statement Wednesday, George W. Bush completely misrepresented the actual affirmative action policy in place at the University of Michigan and its law school by wrongly and repeatedly indicating that quotas were involved in some way. To say that there is a "race-neutral" method of addressing problems that stem from racism simply flies in the face of the facts.

In Florida, Jim Crow educational segregation is being actively reestablished. Florida Governor Jeb Bush eliminated the use of affirmative action in higher education in 2000 through the One Florida Plan executive order. It has in fact created two Floridas, separate and unequal -- one for white students and one for black and Latina students.

Anticipating a drop in minority student enrollment at the flagship University of Florida Levin College of Law (UFL), Jeb Bush urged the creation of two new law schools at Florida's historically black university, Florida A&M University (FAMU) and its historically Latino, black, and Asian-American university, Florida International University (FIU). An all-black law school was created at FAMU in 1951 to circumvent Sweatt v. Painter (the 1950 desegregation suit launched against the University of Texas School of Law). The FAMU law school was closed in 1968 when the Civil Rights Movement forced UFL to finally integrate. The new FAMU and FIU Law Schools harken back to Florida's old Jim Crow days. Recently opened, they have eight and 11 faculty members, respectively, compared to more than 100 faculty members at UFL. No serious opponent of segregation and inequality could support the Florida model.

In 1995, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals banned the use of affirmative action at the University of Texas School of Law (UTL) in the notorious Hopwood decision. Mexican-American and black students were dramatically underrepresented in enrollment at UTL even before affirmative action was outlawed in Texas. The effect of the loss of affirmative action on minority student enrollment at the University of Texas School of Law was devastating. In 1997, the first year that UTL was banned from using affirmative action, first-year black student enrollment dropped from an already very low seven percent down to 0.9 percent and Mexican-American student enrollment dropped from only approximately 11 percent down to 5.6 percent. This in the state of Texas which is now almost 50 percent minority.

The 10 Percent Plan that Bush presided over in Texas assumes and reinforces the segregation and inequality in K-12. This "alternative" to affirmative action cannot even pretend to address the problems of segregation and inequality in professional and graduate schools. Remedying the fundamental institutional inequalities of race and sex in employment or any other aspect of life is entirely outside the scope or the 10 Percent Plan.

Claiming that the 10 Percent Plan is "race-blind" is hypocrisy and falsification. The plan is entirely about race, only it uses the segregated character of K-12 schools in Texas as a proxy -- as a cheap politician's dodge -- rather than addressing the sordid reality of racism, segregation and inequality in American education candidly and honestly.

If our side loses at the Supreme Court, the introduction of this kind of alternative used as a substitute for affirmative action on a national scale will be an utter failure and lead to a social crisis.