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Emotion negative for affirmative action

In the 1950s, the buzzword was Communism. If a person was labeled a Communist, he could be personally or professionally ruined. Senator Joseph McCarthy recognized this and used it to his political advantage. When he had an enemy, instead of attacking his politics, he called him a Communist -- a stigma that often was difficult to escape.

McCarthy called his opponents names rather than attacking their policies or opinions. When an emotional appeal is made, it often shows that a factual appeal would be impossible. Facts should dictate policy, not feelings. Yet there are now people trying to influence the University's admissions policy not by using facts, but by appealing to emotions.

In the most recent uproar in this debate, Board of Visitors member Terence P. Ross has been attacked for his comments on the University's admissions procedure. Ross said last month that the University is "clearly in some cases reaching a little bit down [its] academic standards" to recruit black students.

This is not an irrational statement. And it is also not a miscalculated statement by an uninformed person. Ross, with fellow Board member Benjamin Warthen, has reviewed an entire year's worth of applications. It certainly is possible that the University does not employ uniform admissions standards across all racial groups. There is no reason to dismiss such a statement without debating the veracity of it. Yet this is exactly what the NAACP has tried to do.

The NAACP issued a press release stating: "The Virginia State Conference of NAACP Branches demands that the University of Virginia Board of Visitors repudiate and disassociate itself from the disparaging comments made by Mr. Terrance [sic] Ross." The statement continued: The "NAACP Branches demand that Governor James S. Gilmore remove Mr. Terrance [sic] Ross as a member of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia."

It is unfortunate that the NAACP, which has such an impressive record of accomplishments, and which usually has been characterized by intelligent and thoughtful leaders, has made such a reckless statement. Before suggesting sanctions, the NAACP must explain what they are for. If they are because Ross has unfairly characterized the University's admissions policy, let's see proof that all students meet the same academic criteria. If Ross is to be sanctioned merely because his comments suggest an opposition to affirmative action, then it is the NAACP that has no place in this academic community.

An academic community should be a forum for the discussion of all ideas. We should not try to undermine someone's statements by labeling him a racist. We should not try to silence opponents by calling them names. In today's era of multiculturalism and political correctness, everyone is wary of what they say. There is no worse sin under these standards than to be labeled as a racist. But all too often we have seen this tactic used as a way of avoiding the issue.

In an address to Student Council last week, M. Rick Turner, dean of the Office of African-American Affairs, spoke in a similar manner. He said that some Board members "want the University to be what it was when they were here -- all white and all male."

This statement falls just short of calling them racists. This is a method that should be repugnant in academia, which should serve as an open forum for ideas.

Perhaps the NAACP and Turner have been justly angered. Perhaps their comments were not made as angry and uninformed rebuttals to Ross' statements. If this is true, let's see the evidence that shows that the University assesses all students by the same academic criteria. I certainly hope this is true. I hope that Ross is wrong, and if he is, then he deserves to be criticized. But we have not seen the proof yet, nor have we seen any signs that Turner or the NAACP want to have a real debate on the accuracy of what Ross said.

Turner and the NAACP cannot believe that a system that applies different academic standards to different racial groups would be just, otherwise there would be no reason for attacking Ross. If they believed that there were different academic standards for blacks and whites, then they would have simply accepted Ross' statement as fact. So I challenge Turner and the NAACP to clarify their stances rather than dodging the issue and hiding under their cries of racism. Let's hear why Ross was wrong. Did he mislabel the system, or is it just a matter of not wanting to state too clearly what kind of system we have?

(Peter Brownfeld's column appears Mondays in The Cavalier Daily.)


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