Local News

Affirmative Action Proves Hot Topic On MLK Day

Posted January 20, 2003 6:26 a.m. EST

— On a day when most people paid tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., the debate over Affirmative Action heated up.

That included news that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is getting involved in the Supreme Court fight over the University of Michigan's policy.

Students and faculty at Michigan spent their day off rallying in support of Affirmative Action. They also protested President Bush's challenge to the school's policy.

President Bush said Michigan's policy of considering race in admission is unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, on the local front, UNC's Law School is preparing a brief for the Supreme Court in favor of Michigan's policy. UNC's campus here has had affirmative action for decades.

"We feel it's important," UNC-CH Chanceller James Moeser said. "Affirmative Action has allowed us to have a 12-percent African-American population at Chapel Hill, high academic scores for students who are succeeding, and it's critical, I think, to the quality of this university to stay committed to Affirmative Action."

Affirmative Action is not only the topic at the UNC, it's becoming a hot topic politically.

While attending the Martin Luther King Prayer Breakfast in Durham on Monday, Sen. John Edwards said he's disappointed that President Bush intervened in the Michigan case.

"I think the president is wrong," Edwards said. "I think its very important for us to have Affirmative Action programs in this country, especially programs like the University of Michigan's, which promote diversity in a serious, thoughtful way."

According to John Hood of the conservative John Locke Foundation, aggressive student recuitment was the cornerstone of what Affirmative Action was when the term was coined.

"Unfortunately, Affirmative Action has become race-based preferences," Hood said. "That's not what it was intended to mean, and it certainly is not anticipated or approved by the Civil Rights Act."

But Moeser said the success of Affirmative Action can't be disputed.

"This is the 50th anniversary of enrollment by African-Americans at Carolina," Moeser said. "Think how far we've come in that 50 years.

"We are a greater university today because of the inclusion and diversity that we've exprienced."

A recent survey showed black students made up 12 percent of Carolina's freshman class, which was No. 1 among the nation's top 25 universities. Duke ranked third in the same study.