Stanford Review - Archive - Volume XXX - Issue 1 - News
ASSU Conflicted over Affirmative Action
by Michael Hasper
Last Tuesday, after many weeks of deliberation, the ASSU Undergraduate Senate passed a resolution by a vote of 11-0-1 regarding the practice of affirmative actionin university admissions. The vote was touted as an endorsement of President Hennessy's statement on affirmative action submitted to the Faculty Senate on January 23 and motivated by the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court hearing regarding the University of Michigan's system of admissions.
In his presentation, President Hennessy noted that Stanford has a long-standing commitment to diversity in its student body to "help produce leaders equipped to face increasingly complex social and political realities in this country and the world." In order to accomplish infusing its student demography with such diversity, Hennessy holds with the system of affirmative action "set forth in the Supreme Court's 1978 decision in the Bakke case." According to the university president, the Bakke standard serves as "practical and appropriate means to achieve such diversity."
The landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in University of California Board of Regents v Bakke declared that quotas in admissions were unconstitutional because they were "not the least intrusive means of achieving the [university's] goals." The ruling, however, permitted "guidelines for admissions" in which race or minority status could be a factor, so long as the policies did not violate the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection for individual rights.
The decision therefore left open to the discretion of individual universities how to formulate admissions policies that might both consider minority status and continue to aspire to equal protection. While Stanford considers minority status as a qualitative factor in its admissions policy, the University of Michigan has established a quantitative system in which minority status receives 20 points out of a possible total of 150.
Under this system, merit-based admissions categories assigned much lower point values. (For example, an applicant can receive only up to nine points for leadership and service and three points for an outstanding essay.) Opponents of this system believe that predefining a particular point value that minority status engenders is against the spirit of equal access.
Stanford recently filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support ofthe University of Michigan, thus implicating any official statementmade by the university as one affirming the brief. The ASSU, a campus legislative body endowed to uphold the viewpoint of the entire Stanford student body, decided to come down unequivocally in favor of Hennessy's statement. The controversy in the ASSU's move lies in the heated politics behind the pro-affirmative action opinion expressed in Hennessy's statement.
ASSU bylaws prohibit the Senate from weighing in on "matters not directly affecting Stanford students." During debate on the Senate floor attended by a wide variety of students, including representatives of the Stanford NAACP and the Stanford College Republicans, students were asked to refrain from arguing the merits for or against affirmative action.
As Senate Chair Bo Cowgill explained afterwards, "The ASSU Senate meeting is not a general discussion forum for contemporary topics. Time will not permit the discussion to venture into directions that are irrelevant to the question of whether we should pass the resolution." Other senators perceived that a resolution supporting Hennessy's statement could be made without necessarily endorsing the principles behind the statement.
From their point of view, the ASSU resolution's importance lay in its affirmation of diversity in general as a principle of Stanford student life. This perspective, however, overlooks the fact that the specifics of the resolution squarely dealt not just with diversity but with affirmative action.
Critics of the resolution noted that the ASSU is heading into dangerous territory by making political statements, even implicitly, that do not represent the views of each and every student. A sophomore who wished to remain unidentified wondered whether future resolutions will be brought forth regarding such issues as North Korea, abortion, or the right to bear arms. Co-president of the Stanford College Republicans Joe Fairbanks thought it "sad that [the ASSU Senate] can speak for the entire campus on this political issue when they have done nothing significant to ascertain the pulse of the student body."
The only attempt made at gauging student views involved an online poll on the ASSU website that the webmasters failed to secure for the Stanford population. As a result, individuals affiliated with Stanford were able to access the site and vote, thereby skewing the poll results. Additionally, Fairbanks believes that the senators "already had their minds made up in advance, as nearly all students present were voicing opinions in opposition of affirmative action."
President Hennessy will receive an official letter from the ASSU conveying the Stanford student body's support of his statement.
Page last modified on Thursday, 02-Mar-2006 00:21:10 MST.