The Cavalier Daily
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Opening minds to diverse admissions

TWO YEARS ago, the Faculty Senate began an initiative to increase the sense of "intellectual community" at the University. Second only to clamoring for student self-governance, the call for a dynamic intellectual environment deserves consideration. More specifically, the propriety of current admissions practices must be examined.

Current admissions policies let the University admit bright students with the potential to make positive contributions in the classroom and the community. Geographic, experiential and, yes, racial diversity are goals set to help achieve this. Until the Supreme Court rules otherwise, the University should continue to consider these factors, as well as others pertinent to promoting intellectual stimulation.

Without a diverse student population, we cannot create the most stimulating intellectual community possible. If the University measured students' potential to positively influence the academic climate strictly by comparing numerical indications of achievement, intellectual stagnation - rather than a sense of intellectual community - would result.

Objective measures of success such as SAT scores and grades play a significant role in the process of evaluating candidates for admission to the University and most other institutions of higher learning. But these factors merely should be several in a multitude of considerations taken into account.

Students, though focused so intently on numerical goals, offer more than merely grades or scores. Life experiences and ideals reveal students' uniqueness and non-scholastic attributes. Students should be judged not only by the necessarily objective criteria, but also by the intangible qualities setting her apart from other applicants. If institutions cared only to engage in admission-by-numbers, surely they wouldn't need personal statements, evidence of leadership ability or letters of recommendation.

When making decisions about applicants, admissions officers must determine what they value and what kind of community they wish to create. Then they must decide how to weigh both objective and subjective qualities of prospective students to reach the desired end. At the University, we strive for a community that promotes scholarly exploration and debate. Debate is difficult withozut differences of opinion and, while academic inquisitiveness could continue in a homogeneous environment, students would learn little from each other.

The University, an agent of the Commonwealth, has a compelling interest to promote diversity as a means to achieve its educational goals. Increasing numbers of minority students now achieve as much or more than their white peers, putting them on an equal playing field in the quest for college admission. This accomplishment is enough, some believe, to negate the need for racial considerations in the admissions process. But until educational inequalities in primary and secondary schools are remedied, many minority students still will suffer from meager resources and opportunities as they apply to institutions of higher education. Despite the lasting effects of reforming an entire educational system, such an undertaking involves huge investments of time, money and effort. Consequently, some type of racial consideration remains necessary if the University hopes to maintain its diversity.

Critics of race-based admissions decisions forget that the University engages in affirmative action along more than racial lines. The University admits a certain cross-section of Virginians each year. The range of secondary educational opportunities available throughout the Commonwealth make separate considerations necessary depending on a student's region. The requirement for regional diversity seems an obvious function of the University as a state-funded institution. Of course we must serve students from across the state, rather than merely the most affluent applicants.

But perhaps the argument for admitting students from a range of racial backgrounds does not seem as clear. This lack of clarity itself reflects a continued need for the practice. If students do not yet understand why diversity is an integral component of their educational experience at the University, admissions policies allowing for maximum diversity in our intellectual community should not be abandoned.

(Amy Startt's column appears Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily.)

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