Ohio colleges await high court's affirmative action ruling

CLEVELAND (AP) - Leaders of Ohio colleges say if the Supreme Court bans the use of affirmative action in admissions, it won't change the value they place on diversity.
A ban would require colleges to rely on recruiting and other tools to ensure that promising minority students are among their applicants, said Christopher Munoz, who will become vice president for enrollment next month at Case Western Reserve University.
The Supreme Court is expected to decide any day whether policies that help minorities win spots at the University of Michigan's law school and main campus are unconstitutional.
The ruling comes at a time when more minorities are attending Ohio's 38 public colleges and universities. Board of Regents records show the number of non-Hispanic black students has grown from 30,964 in 1980 to 44,097 in 2002 while the number of Hispanic students has increased from 2,354 in 1980 to 7,042.
The increased scrutiny of race-based efforts worries those who feel minorities still need the benefit of race-based programs.
Sabiha Ahmad-Khan, enrolled in a Case Western Reserve University summer program for premed students, said the experience is necessary to help boost the number of minority doctors.
"It's hard to find support groups and people to tell you what medical school is going to be like," she said. "I feel like a lot of members of the majority group have that access."
The case before the Supreme Court is founded on moral and legal principles that hold it is wrong to discriminate based on race, said a spokesman for a nonprofit legal group representing the Michigan plaintiffs.
"This is not about whether diversity is good or even whether affirmative action is good," said Curt Levey, director of legal and public affairs at the Center for Individual Rights. "This is about whether you should get points for being the right skin color."
He said the center would not oppose admissions programs that grant preference to prospective students at a disadvantage because they are poor or attended substandard schools.
John Garland, president of Central State University, said affirmative action is simply a recognition that the door to opportunity needs to be open to everyone.
"Affirmative action is still needed because of the history of this country," said Garland, who also heads a national panel focused on minorities in higher education. "Colleges and universities are the places where we create the next generation."
If the high court does rule that colleges and universities can no longer consider race in trying to build diversity on campus, there are other options.
Some institutions grant preference to applicants based on socio-economic status rather than race or ethnicity, according to a U.S. Department of Education report on "race-neutral" alternatives.
Others have redoubled their recruitment efforts or established programs to boost academic performance among high school students and prepare them to become successful college applicants.
Texas guarantees that public colleges will accept the top 10 percent of each high school graduating class.
But Mabel Freeman, assistant vice president for undergraduate admissions at Ohio State University, is skeptical.
As the Michigan cases have moved through the courts, Ohio State has looked at more than 120 models of how to achieve diversity without considering race, she said.
"None gives us the same diversity," Freeman said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)