Negative about affirmative action?

By Ed Bradley

60 Minutes (CBS News), October 29, 2000

ED BRADLEY, co-host: When it comes to affirmative action, Al Gore supports it unequivocally; George Bush isn’t so sure. But by the time one of them gets to the White House, the matter could be academic. A case that could decide the issue once and for all is scheduled to begin next month in Ann Arbor, where one-quarter of the student body at the University of Michigan is a member of a minority group. The suit against the university is being brought by three white plaintiffs who say they didn’t get accepted at Michigan because the admissions committee gives unfair and, they claim, unlawful advantage to minorities.

(Footage of Jennifer Gratz)

BRADLEY: (Voiceover) One of those plaintiffs is Jennifer Gratz, who grew up in Southgate, Michigan. From childhood, it was her dream to attend college at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Thought you’d get in pretty easily?

Ms. JENNIFER GRATZ: I–I thought that I had made myself–I’d done everything that I possibly could do.

(Footage of Gratz; photos of Gratz from high school)

BRADLEY: (Voiceover) Gratz had a 3.8 grade point average and scored in the top 20 percent on her College Boards. She was a member of the National Honor Society, vice president of the student council, a varsity cheerleader for four years, the class historian and even found time to volunteer as both a tutor in math and as a senior citizen escort. But for the University of Michigan, it wasn’t enough. She was rejected.

Ms. GRATZ: I remember the day like–like it was yesterday. I came home from practice, cheerleading practice, and grabbed the mail. And it was a thin envelope. And then I opened it and I–I–I read probably the first three lines at that point and started crying. I was mad and I didn’t understand why and I didn’t want to tell anyone. But right away, I definitely knew that there was something wrong.


Ms. GRATZ: Well, it–it–common knowledge. They make it know that they use race and that there is a double standard.

(Footage of University of Michigan campus; Lee Bollinger and Bradley talking)

BRADLEY: (Voiceover) The university is unapologetic about its use of race in admissions. According to Michigan’s president, Lee Bollinger, it’s the right thing to do.

Mr. LEE BOLLINGER (President, University of Michigan): The basic idea is that students learn better when they’re in an environment in which not everyone is just like them. And we take into account a host of factors. Race and ethnicity are two, but there are many others.

BRADLEY: How big a factor does race play?

Mr. BOLLINGER: The question of bigness or smallness of the–of the factor is not the way to look at it. The–the question is: How much do you value diversity as an educational tool for your students?

Professor CARL COHEN: Any questions about the theory there? I mean…

(Footage of Cohen teaching class)

BRADLEY: (Voiceover) But don’t tell Professor Carl Cohen the question is simply one of valuing diversity. Professor Cohen has been a member of Michigan’s philosophy department for more than 40 years. He’s a long-time liberal, but he’s also the university’s most vocal opponent of using race in admissions.

Prof. COHEN: It’s evil. It’s not meant to be evil, but it’s fundamentally wrong in a good society. That’s what we always believed. Treat the races without discriminating on the basis of skin color. And I’ve devoted my life to much of that. And I–I’m not going to stop now when people are doing it for what they think are good reasons.

(Footage of college campus)

BRADLEY: (Voiceover) Five years ago, Professor Cohen read an article pointing out that the acceptance rates for blacks at many major universities was higher than that of whites.

Prof. COHEN: So I asked my colleagues what was going on here. And they told me it was confidential. And that troubled me. So after pressing and pressing, but not succeeding, I finally used the Freedom of Information Act.

BRADLEY: Whe–when you finally started to get these documents…

Prof. COHEN: Yes.

BRADLEY: …this information you were seeking, what did you find out?

Prof. COHEN: Well, what was cl–plain, very plain from these documents, was that the university was discriminating blatantly by race.

(Footage of Bradley and Cohen talking)

BRADLEY: (Voiceover) Professor Cohen showed us the form which he says clearly shows that whites were being discriminated against.

Prof. COHEN: There’s a little line up at the top of the form. It says, ‘Use the top line for majority students; use the middle and bottom line for minority students.’ I mean, it was shocking.

BRADLEY: What the university was doing was ranking the more than 20,000 applicants who apply each year by their high school grades and SAT scores. Those whose combined scores were above a certain level were admitted. Those below were rejected.

Prof. COHEN: For the white students who get the top line, it’s reject. And for the black students or the Hispanic students who get the bottom line, it’s admit. So in cell after cell, it’s reject and admit, reject and admit, reject and admit. Cell after cell after cell.

(Footage of University of Michigan campus; visual of Selection Index Worksheet with excerpts of various point assignments; Liz Barry and Bradley talking)

BRADLEY: (Voiceover) Shortly after the documents Professor Cohen uncovered became public, the university stopped using them and changed to a system that gives applicants points for various criteria. For example, a perfect GPA is worth 80 points, having a parent who went to the school is worth 4. Scholarship athletes are awarded 20 points. A perfect SAT score is worth 12 points, an outstanding essay gets you 1, and being a minority is worth 20. Liz Barry is the university’s deputy general counsel. Is being a minority 20 times more important than writing an outstanding essay?

Ms. LIZ BARRY: Absolutely not. That’s not how we think of that, Ed.

BRADLEY: Twenty times the number of points.

Ms. BARRY: It…

BRADLEY: You get 1 point for an outstanding essay, 20 points if you’re a minority.

Ms. BARRY: Mm-hmm. When–when our admissions counselors are looking at a file, they–they open it up and they take into account all these things. They’ll–they’ll look at the essay, and our system right now only affords 1 point for an outstanding essay, but it doesn’t mean that that’s all that essay means.

BRADLEY: It means 1 point, yeah.

Ms. BARRY: In–in essays–it means 1 point in this.

BRADLEY: You’re not going to give them 2 points for it.

Ms. BARRY: But back to your sort of basic point, race–race matters in our admissions process. It matters because we know when we bring together a diverse student body, we get educational benefits. We’ve been very up front about that. It’s lawful, according to the Supreme Court and it’s part of our process.

(Footage of Supreme Court building; visual of Regents of California vs. Bakke filings; college classroom)

BRADLEY: (Voiceover) In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled in the Regents of California vs. Bakke that race could be considered as a factor in university admissions, so long as it wasn’t a deciding factor. The university insists that the way it uses race in admissions complies with the law.

Mr. TOM TURNER: In my case, I probably wouldn’t have been accepted by the University of Michigan had there not been affirmative action.

(Footage of Turner at the library)

BRADLEY: (Voiceover) Tom Turner spent his childhood in poverty, moving from state to state with a mother who had difficulty holding on to a job. He did manage to graduate from high school, but with a mediocre record.

Mr. TURNER: You know, I was a mid-C student at best. But the fact of the matter is, is that since I’ve arrived at the University of Michigan, I’ve done far better than my GPA or my SAT scores would have implied. I was probably, you know, if I was lucky, a 2.5, 2.8 student in high school. I’m a 3.9, Phi Beta Kappa, honor student in American culture now. Nobody could have possibly predicted that based on my high school scores or anything that came from high school.

(Footage of group of students)

BRADLEY: (Voiceover) We brought together Turner and a group of other students with opposing views on affirmative action. Rory Diamond is chairman of the College Republicans.

Mr. RORY DIAMOND: For every single student who gets in because of affirmative action, there’s exactly one other student out there going to some other school who doesn’t get to be on 60 MINUTES, who doesn’t get their story to be told, who didn’t get in because they were white. They never had their shot to come here and get a 3.9 and be Phi Beta Kappa.

(Footage of Matthew Schwartz)

BRADLEY: (Voiceover) Matthew Schwartz is editor of the conservative newspaper on campus.

Mr. MATTHEW SCHWARTZ: I mean, what we’re doing with these 20 points, we’re perpetuating the worst stereotype about–about blacks that they’re not good enough to get in without this help and that they need this help. I mean, you’re walking down the street and consciously or not, you know, whites are say–whites are–aren’t sure if the black people they meet deserve to be here on the merit.

Mr. SHOMARI TERRELONGE-STONE: I’m in favor of affirmative action because there’s all types of affirmative action.

(Footage of Stone talking)

BRADLEY: (Voiceover) Shomari Terrelonge-Stone is now a graduate.

Mr. TERRELONGE-STONE: There’s affirmative action for students who are here because their parents donated $ 1 million to this school who have 2.9 GPAs and who are walking around this school as students. There’s affirmative action for athletes, those who can shoot a basketball well or run a touchdown. So why are we attacking race-based affirmative action?

Prof. COHEN: Race is not to be analogized to legacies or athletics. Race is different. We have a history about race, Mr. Bradley. I don’t have to tell you that; a long, painful history in which we learned that when you consider people’s skin color, you do damage to them and to the society. And we are doing damage to them and to the society.

(Footage of Center for Individual Rights; visuals of various newspaper headlines; Barbara Grutter walking to her house)

BRADLEY: (Voiceover) And lawyers at the Center for Individual Rights, a conservative think tank in Washington, DC, agree. The center is responsible for bringing the lawsuits that did away with affirmative action in both Texas and Washington state. They are bringing a class-action lawsuit against the University of Michigan because they’re convinced the university is violating the law. Two of their plaintiffs are Jennifer Gratz and this woman, Barbara Grutter, who was rejected by the university’s law school in 1997.

Ms. BARBARA GRUTTER: They say things like, ‘We’re selective,’ but they’re making selections on racial lines. They say, ‘We have to get over this sense of entitlement,’ but, of course, I’m entitled to equal treatment.

(Footage of Grutter in an office)

BRADLEY: (Voiceover) Grutter, a mother of two, put herself through college working nights while maintaining a straight-A average. For over 13 years, she has run her own health-care consulting business. She says her rejection was unfair.

Ms. GRUTTER: I have two children. And we have always taught them that discrimination was wrong, that people have a right to equal treatment. Our beliefs about equal treatment and equal protection–are those platitudes or are those real?

(Footage of Jeffrey Lehman)

BRADLEY: (Voiceover) Jeffrey Lehman is the dean of Michigan’s law school.

Mr. JEFFREY LEHMAN (Dean, University of Michigan Law School): I understand Barbara Grutter’s disappointment. I understand that she wanted to come here. I appreciate that. But it’s not a good lesson for her to teach her children to blame the fact that she did not get in on something that wasn’t the cause.

BRADLEY: So race had nothing to do with Barbara Grutter not getting in?

Mr. LEHMAN: That’s correct.

(Footage of Bradley and Cohen talking)

BRADLEY: (Voiceover) But Professor Cohen says Grutter wasn’t competing on an even playing field, and he showed us these law school admissions records from 1995.

Prof. COHEN: Here, 51 applications, one admit; 61 applications, one admit; 2 percent, 3 percent chance of getting in. Not easy. That was for Caucasian Americans. That’s their word language; not mine. This is their sheet. And they prepared another sheet for African-Americans. Same cells, same scores: 10 applicants, 10 admits; five applications, five admits. One hundred percent, instead of 2 percent opportunity, which is what the case is for whites. A hundred percent for blacks. It–oh, come on.

Ms. BARRY: Look, they would like to get people sort of caught up in the intricacies of our process when the fundamental issue at stake here is: Are colleges and universities going to be allowed to take race and ethnicity into account in their admissions process to pursue important educational aims?

Mr. LEHMAN: When we teach our students about difficult issues such as whether it’s appropriate for police to be able to use race profiles when you stop people in traffic stops, when we ask our students whether it’s appropriate to decriminalize crack cocaine, the discussion, the analysis, the learning that takes place is better in a racially diverse classroom.

BRADLEY: Wha–what makes you most angry about what–what’s happened to you?

Ms. GRUTTER: Just the fact that someone has the arrogance to think that they have the right to treat me differently, to take away my rights. It is that more than anything.

BRADLEY: Do you still think that you’re doing the right thing by taking the university to court?

Ms. GRATZ: I definitely think I’m doing the right thing. I think that the policy needs to be changed. I don’t think that there was a fair process.

Mr. TURNER: No, it’s not fair. OK? I don’t necessarily think that affirmative action is fair. However, some sort of balance is needed.

BRADLEY: What would you say to Jennifer?

Mr. TURNER: Sorry. I mean, granted, statistically speaking, she’s got everything it takes to get into the University of Michigan; logically speaking, if you just want to look at, you know, the numbers, she deserves to be here. I’m simply saying that in the interest of diversity, perhaps she lost out.

BRADLEY: You think the university is going to win this lawsuit?



Mr. BOLLINGER: Because at the end of the day, I–I think we–we have a–a–a policy that is consistent with the–with the country’s values. This is something the–the United States can and should be proud of. Dealing with race is hard. Every 50 years, perhaps, in our history, we’ve struggled with this, tried to–to deal with it and improve and then perhaps grown tired and backed away. This is not the moment in which to back away. it seems, along party lines.