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Mac Seafraidh
Friday, December 10th, 2004, 06:00 AM
Federal Civil-Rights Office Investigates Admissions Policies at U. of Virginia
By PETER SCHMIDT

The Education Department's Office for Civil Rights is investigating a complaint that the University of Virginia discriminates against white applicants for undergraduate admission, and has been asked to look into similar allegations involving North Carolina State University's undergraduate program, the University of Maryland's School of Medicine in Baltimore, and the law schools at the University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary.

The civil-rights office provided The Chronicle with details of its investigation into the University of Virginia's undergraduate admissions policies on Tuesday. In an interview, Kenneth L. Marcus, who oversees the civil-rights office, said that the existence of such an investigation means that his agency has evaluated the complaint and taken it seriously enough to contact the university for more information and a resolution.

The investigation at Virginia is the office's first examination of a college's admissions policies since the U.S. Supreme Court's June 2003 rulings in two cases involving affirmative action at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (The Chronicle, July 4, 2003).

The complaint actually was filed in May 2003, one month before the Supreme Court rendered those decisions, but the civil-rights office did not notify Virginia of its investigation until early August 2003, after the court had ruled. The young white man at the center of the complaint had been rejected by the university after applying for admission in the fall of 2003.

In its letter to UVa's president, John T. Casteen 3rd, the civil-rights office said the complaint was filed by the father of the youth denied admission. The letter says that the father alleges that the university discriminated against his son by denying him admission "because he was not a minority or female student" and that "the university's undergraduate admissions policies and procedures discriminate against nonminority male students."

University officials declined on Tuesday to comment on the investigation or the complaint, the existence of which was not widely known outside the university's legal department. The civil-rights office has a policy of not disclosing the identity of people filing such complaints.

In his letter to the civil-rights office, the rejected applicant's father, a New York resident, said his son, a graduating high-school senior, "had been passed over in the name of diversity." He said he decided to file the complaint after the university failed to return both his calls and those of U.S Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, Democrat of New York, whom he had recruited to help press his case.

The federal civil-rights office would not comment on the complaints involving the law schools at Virginia and William and Mary, the Maryland medical school, and North Carolina State. Roger B. Clegg, who filed those complaints last fall as general counsel for the Center for Equal Opportunity, a group opposed to racial preferences, said the civil-rights agency was still evaluating the complaints and had not decided whether to undertake formal investigations.

Because the complaints remain under evaluation, the higher-education institutions themselves have not been notified and given a chance to respond. Officials at the schools could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

Mr. Clegg said that his organization decided to file the complaints because it believes that the institutions' admissions policies consider race and ethnicity "to such a heavy extent" that they violate the guidelines set forth in the Michigan decisions. In those rulings, the Supreme Court held that college admissions offices could give some consideration to race and ethnicity, but must consider race-neutral alternatives, refrain from using formulaic admissions systems that automatically treat students differently based on their race, and give no more weight to applicants' race than necessary to achieve the institutions' educational goals.

Mr. Clegg said that his organization has sought, in recent months, to buttress its complaints by providing the civil-rights office with information gathered from colleges by the National Association of Scholars and its various state affiliates. Since early 2004, the national association has been working in tandem with Mr. Clegg's group and the Center for Individual Rights, another leading group opposed to race-conscious admissions, to use state freedom-of-information laws to force selective colleges to disclose exactly how much weight they give to race.

"Colleges and universities that insist on using racial and ethnic preferences in admissions are on notice that they cannot do so in secret any more, and that they need to be very careful that, if they do discriminate, it falls within the constraints set by the Supreme Court in its University of Michigan decisions," Mr. Clegg said.

"Of course," he added, "we hope that schools will conclude that they should simply stop considering race and ethnicity in their admissions processes and make admissions decisions on a nondiscriminatory basis."

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