Colorado voters may halt affirmative action

Nicole Danna

Colorado Daily

BOULDER, Colo. (U-WIRE) – A proposal scheduled for legislative review later this week may bring Colorado voters one step closer to halting affirmative action programs, including those that give preferential treatment to minorities in college admissions.

If the issue comes to ballot in Colorado next year, it will ask the state not discriminate or give preferential treatment to individuals or groups based on race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin.

But according to university officials, such a proposal would have no bearing on admission policies at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Christine Wyoshimaga-Itamo, vice provost and associate vice chancellor for diversity and equity, said there are no race-based programs or race-based quotas at CU.

“And we have not had those for many years here at the university and I don’t know if we ever did,” said the 22-year CU employee. “The reason for (an affirmative action ban) is to prevent universities from using race-based quotas, and that simply does not happen (here), so (a ban) would have no impact,” said Wyoshimaga-Itamo.

For that reason, said Wyoshimaga-Itamo, an affirmative action ban in Colorado would have no affect on CU’s current admission policies.

The proposal comes in the wake of the 2003 Supreme Court ruling that found the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policy in law school admissions – a point system that considered race as a factor for undergraduate admission – unconstitutional.

Teresa Hernandez, director of CU’s Student Outreach Retention Center for Equity (SORCE), agreed with Wyoshimaga-Itamo.

“The greater community believes that we are operating under affirmative action, and we aren’t,” said Hernandez, adding SORCE is just one of the campuses existing programs that work to support diversity and minority outreach and retention on campus.

Hernandez said she believes state employers – compared to colleges and universities – would be more affected by such a ban.

“And that’s why affirmative action was originally put in place – to make sure organizations and companies were being more inclusive of (minority groups in the workplace),” said Hernandez.

Still, Wyoshimaga-Itamo said the idea of such a ban is disconcerting.

“The thing that bothers me about this issue is that it is based on an assumption that students and employees of color on this campus are not as well-qualified as everyone else, and that’s just completely untrue,” said Wyoshimaga-Itamo. “It is a sad thing that their abilities, their right to be on this campus, are being questioned in any way.”

And just what is CU’s policy concerning the admission of minority applicants?

Kevin MacLennan, director of admissions at CU, said race can be a factor in the admissions process, but cannot be a primary or sole factor in which a student is offered admission.

“We currently consider between 11 and 13 different primary factors in the admission process, and race can be an additional consideration, but not a primary one,” said MacLennan, adding all applicants are selected through a review of primary considerations that include the personal essay, grades, class rank, standardized test scores (SAT) and a set of classes called minimum academic preparation standards – college preparatory units the university expects students to have completed during high school.

“Students identify themselves on a variety of different variables, all of which are taken into consideration for admissions, and all students are evaluated on the same criteria,” said Wyoshimaga-Itamo, and any variables taken into consideration outside of academic achievement are also evaluated equally.

“And in some cases, for some students, those variables are applicable for a white person, as well,” said Wyoshimaga-Itamo. “There are very few admissions what we call ‘in the window’ – meaning they have not met some of the basic academic requirements.”

According to Wyoshimaga-Itamo, of the small number of CU students who are accepted “in the window,” there is a high retention rate, and most are white students.

“But there are very few (of that type of admission), mainly because we have so many students applying who are highly qualified applying, there is no reason to use the window,” said Wyoshimaga-Itamo.

So what is being done to support diversity on a 28,624-student campus where, for the 2006-2007 school year, 14 percent are considered minority status, and 3 percent are international students?

According to Hernandez, efforts to bring underrepresented groups to campus are growing stronger, she said.

“I think we could do more outreach, but it takes a lot of work, and there are already a lot of students and staff invested in that effort,” said Hernandez. “Across the board, everyone here is doing what they can.”