The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

"Diversity" at University of Michigan excludes the children of workers
–black and white

Apr 2, 2001

A federal district judge has now ruled that the University of Michigan's "diversity admissions policy" –which takes race into account as one aspect of law school admissions –violated the Constitution.

The decision is the opposite of another judge who ruled that the University of Michigan's undergraduate "diversity" admissions policy did not violate the constitutional rights of the white students challenging it.

Both cases were brought into court by lawyers for the "The Center for Individual Rights," a right wing organization. This "Center" specializes in bringing to court cases in which they try to demonstrate that white workers are being harmed by the special attention being accorded black people.

In order to prove their point, the lawyers chose cases involving white students who came from working class backgrounds. The law school applicant is a 47-year old white woman who had worked for years in clerical positions in order to work her way through school, and then into law school. The other case involved a young woman who had gone to high school in Southgate, a working class suburb of Detroit. The lawyers argued that, although these students had higher scores on admissions tests, "their places" at the university were taken up by black students with lower scores.

If the "Center" had really wanted to take on the issue that the children of white workers were being excluded by the University of Michigan, it could easily have demonstrated this point. After all, the white applicants who brought suit not only were displaced by black students with lower scores on admissions tests, they were displaced by many more white students who had lower scores on admissions tests –but wealthier parents.

Despite the fine words, the University of Michigan, one of the top ranked universities in the country, does not have a "diversity" policy. Its students overwhelmingly come from the ranks of the bourgeoisie and the wealthy petty-bourgeoisie. The vast majority went to high schools which either were private or were located in areas which served the children of the well-off layers of the population.

If the ratio of white students at the University of Michigan is higher than their proportion in the whole population of 18-to-25-year-olds, it's because the wealthy layers of the population are disproportionately white, whereas the black population belongs overwhelmingly to the working class and poor layers of the population. There are, nonetheless, millions of working class and poor white people in Michigan also. And their children, too, are for the most part excluded from the University of Michigan.

Of course, the university wouldn't have to do anything other than use the usual standards of admission –tests and grades –to put together a student body drawn for the most part from the wealthy layers of society. The system of education in this country, which provides more resources, smaller classes and better prepared teachers to the children of the wealthy, automatically guarantees it.

The so-called "diversity policy," of which the University of Michigan is so proud, saying that it tries to overcome these limits, in fact simply reinforces them. An applicant is given "points" for a range of different things, including their ethnic background or class background ("socio-economic disadvantage"). But the few points that any young person, white or black, is given for these matters is overwhelmed by the points given for other criteria: points for the "prestige" of their high school; for the "difficulty" of their high school program; for "advanced placement" classes their high school offered"; for their family link to someone else who already went to the university or who donated money to the university; not to mention for something called "provost's discretion."

But these issues were never raised by "The Center for Individual Rights." And with reason. Its aim has always been to cover up the class bias in capitalist society, to try to convince white workers that their enemies are people of other races and ethnic groups.

The University of Michigan is a public university and therefore supported in part by the tax dollars which working class parents pay to the state. It is only right that their children, all of them, be given the chance for a decent education. For that to happen, however, an attack has to be made on the whole system of public school education which today deprives a vast number of children in their early formative years of the education they need so they can pursue learning later on.

The public schools need to be reinforced, the completely insufficient amount of money devoted to them increased many times over. As politicians love to say, "children are our most precious asset." It's true. But capitalist society certainly doesn't act on that, nor do the politicians who say it. Instead of reinforcing the public school system, they are today dismantling it through vouchers, "schools of choice" and public schools run by private companies for profit.

The "diversity admissions policy" of the University of Michigan is not even a bandaid on this problem. It reinforces the class basis of education in this country which denies a good education to the vast majority of children. In so doing, it also reinforces the racist exclusion of black children from education, including schools like the University of Michigan.