(NY Times, registration required)
Service Academies Defend Use of Race in Their Admissions Policies: Even as the Bush administration sides with opponents of affirmative action at the University of Michigan, officials of the nation's service academies say their own minority admissions programs are necessary to maintain both integrated student bodies and officer corps. By defending policies that are not "race neutral," the admissions officers appear to contradict their commander in chief. [...] While the academy officials would not discuss the Michigan case, several outside legal experts argue that the administration's legal theories in briefs it filed with the Supreme Court in the case raise serious questions about the procedures at the elite training grounds for future military leaders at West Point, Annapolis and Colorado Springs.
To be sure, the main defense that the service academies can offer is that they are redressing extensive, historical, and well documented discriminatory practices at the academies.
The Army, Navy and Air Force academies make strenuous efforts to achieve freshman classes with significant minority representation, though only West Point says it has specific percentage goals. Each recruits extensively, gives minorities an edge on admissions and bolsters their ranks by sending promising candidates who fall just short of their standards to one-year preparatory schools. Some enlisted personnel and athletes also attend those schools.
The program at West Point would appear to be in direct and flagrant conflict with the Bakke ruling, let alone current administration policy, let alone other recent Court decisions ... never mind what comes out of the Michigan cases. Even affirmative action as a direct remedy for past misconduct probably wouldn't allow a quota program to stand.
I wonder how the administration will handle this. For one thing, the service academies' twin arguments of (1) we want our officer corps to look more like the United States than it used to, and (2) we want our officer corps to look more like our current enlisted ranks, so that we can maintain morale, while they might be persuasive in an entirely nonlegal sense, are not likely to be allowed to trump whatever principles the court uses to strike down the Michigan rules. Additionally, the administration and the Republican Party conservative hierarchy are trying desperately to pretend that they like minorities! they really really like them! It becomes increasingly difficult to make that argument when you attack affirmative action programs at not only the nation's leading universities, but the only national universities we have. (It's also worth remembering that part of the problem is that minorities and whites seem to view affirmative action programs in drastically different ways. Minorities tend to view affirmative action programs as reparative but taking merit into account, and whites tend to view them as purely preferential without regard to merit.)
That said, I have a feeling that the administration will serenely ignore the service academies as long as possible, and that the Court will tailor its ruling very specifically to the merits of this particular case. I don't think either the executive or legislative wants to deal with touching the military at this point.Posted by iain at January 28, 2003 04:48 PM