George W. Bush photo

Remarks on the Michigan Affirmative Action Case

January 15, 2003

The Supreme Court will soon hear arguments in a case about admissions policies and student diversity in public universities. I strongly support diversity of all kinds, including racial diversity in higher education. But the method used by the University of Michigan to achieve this important goal is fundamentally flawed.

At their core, the Michigan policies amount to a quota system that unfairly rewards or penalizes prospective students, based solely on their race. So tomorrow my administration will file a brief with the Court arguing that the University of Michigan's admissions policies, which award students a significant number of extra points based solely on their race and establishes numerical targets for incoming minority students, are unconstitutional.

Our Constitution makes it clear that people of all races must be treated equally under the law. Yet we know that our society has not fully achieved that ideal. Racial prejudice is a reality in America. It hurts many of our citizens. As a nation, as a government, and as individuals, we must be vigilant in responding to prejudice wherever we find it. Yet, as we work to address the wrong of racial prejudice, we must not use means that create another wrong and thus perpetuate our divisions.

America is a diverse country, racially, economically, and ethnically. And our institutions of higher education should reflect our diversity. A college education should teach respect and understanding and good will. And these values are strengthened when students live and learn with people from many backgrounds. Yet quota systems that use race to include or exclude people from higher education and the opportunities it offers are divisive, unfair, and impossible to square with the Constitution.

In the programs under review by the Supreme Court, the University of Michigan has established an admissions process based on race. At the undergraduate level, African American students and some Hispanic students and Native American students receive 20 points out of a maximum of 150, not because of any academic achievement or life experience but solely because they are African American, Hispanic, or Native American.

To put this in perspective, a perfect SAT score is worth only 12 points in the Michigan system. Students who accumulate 100 points are generally admitted, so those 20 points awarded solely based on race are often the decisive factor.

At the law school, some minority students are admitted to meet percentage targets, while other applicants with higher grades and better scores are passed over. This means that students are being selected or rejected based primarily on the color of their skin. The motivation for such an admissions policy may be very good, but its result is discrimination, and that discrimination is wrong.

Some States are using innovative ways to diversify their student bodies. Recent history has proven that diversity can be achieved without using quotas. Systems in California and Florida and Texas have proven that by guaranteeing admissions to the top students from high schools throughout the State, including low-income neighborhoods, colleges can attain broad racial diversity. In these States, race-neutral admissions policies have resulted in levels of minority attendance for incoming students that are close to and in some instances slightly surpass those under the old race-based approach.

We should not be satisfied with the current numbers of minorities on Americans' college campuses. Much progress has been made. Much more is needed. University officials have the responsibility and the obligation to make a serious, effective effort to reach out to students from all walks of life without falling back on unconstitutional quotas. Schools should seek diversity by considering a broad range of factors in admissions, including a student's potential and life experiences.

Our Government must work to make college more affordable for students who come from economically disadvantaged homes. And because we're committed to racial justice, we must make sure that America's public schools offer a quality education to every child from every background, which is the central purpose of the education reforms I signed last year.

America's long experience with the segregation we have put behind us and the racial discrimination we still struggle to overcome requires a special effort to make real the promise of equal opportunity for all. My administration will continue to actively promote diversity and opportunity in every way that the law permits.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 4:30 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to two related cases before the Supreme Court, Barbara Grutter, Petitioner v. Lee Bollinger, et al and Jennifer Gratz and Patrick Hamacker, Petitioners v. Lee Bollinger, et al. The Office of the Press Secretary also released a Spanish language transcript of these remarks.

George W. Bush, Remarks on the Michigan Affirmative Action Case Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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