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Proposed Board plan raises racial concerns

In response to growing criticism over the legality of using race as a factor in admissions, the Office of Admissions and the Provost's Office have drawn up a proposal for a summer program to help recruit students from diverse backgrounds.

The program, which will target underprivileged and minority middle and high school students, will be a two-week session at the University where students are exposed to various academic and social aspects of the University, Dean of Admissions John A. Blackburn said.

Shirley Menaker, associate provost for academic support, submitted the proposal to University President John T. Casteen III Friday.

Menkaker estimated that the first two years of the program would cost about $1 million, and would most likely be funded by the General Assembly.

The Office of Admissions uses race as a factor in admissions, but has had to deal with reports from organizations such as the Washington-based Center for Equal Opportunity that claim this practice is illegal.

In response to the studies, University Rector John P. Ackerly III appointed a special committee in January to investigate whether the University's admissions policies are legal.

"There is a feeling that under the current laws, you can't practice affirmative action the way that you used to," Ackerly said.

He said it is too soon to speculate whether the Board is considering eliminating the use of race as a factor in admissions.

However, Office of African-American Affairs Dean M. Rick Turner said he believes the Board intends to remove race as a component of the admissions process.

"The Board of Visitors' directive that University administrators replace the consideration of race in the admissions process with an ill-conceived compensatory two week program is a simplistic, patronizing and paternalistic insult to the entire African-American community," Turner said.

Board of Visitors members "suggested the program as one of several elements of response to advice from legal counsel that consideration of race in admission decisions is not legally defensible," Casteen said.

Although a specific curriculum for the program has not been decided, it will mainly focus on guiding students in areas where they would not otherwise receive sufficient training from their high schools, Menaker said.

The idea for the tentative proposal was to "come up with a way to retain good percentages of minority students on the same level as other students in a race-neutral way," she said.

Students recruited for the program, which is tentatively scheduled to begin in the summer of 2001, will be invited to return every year until their senior year in high school, Blackburn said.

The University already has approved expanding the Office of Admissions by adding two admissions counselors and an administrative assistant, he said.

If the program is approved, these counselors might staff the summer workshop.

Once the program is implemented fully, there will be about 700 students attending the summer sessions each year, he added.

"Our goal is to take young people who have potential and create a large cohort of people who could possibly attend the University," Blackburn said. "It will hopefully increase the pool of applicants from different population groups."


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