Regarding President Randel’s column “Greater
Than Zero Is What Justice Demands” (February/03),
I urge Chicago to judge students as whole people. The demographic
categories that 17-year-old applicants fit into are significant
and help you learn about them, but not as much as their essay,
interview, and the rest of their application.
When I came to Hyde Park in 1984, I
noticed that all my classmates cared a lot about at least one
thing. Three examples: problem sets, organizing Marxist youth,
Jean-Luc Ponty. Those interests could not have been predicted
by their ancestry.
Matthew Nickerson, AB’88
While I completely
disagree with them, I thank you for printing the letters critical
of President Randel’s column on the University’s
affirmative-action program. This is the reason I enjoyed immensely
my time at the U of C and have continued to respect the University.
You get to hear both sides even if one side makes no sense or
is even insulting, as Lew Flagg’s letter was.
Some—I fervently hope most—of
us seek a good and decent society, where race truly doesn’t
matter. Then we can ignore racial classifications because they
aren’t needed—and I pray for that day. But this
day will not come unless we honestly face the existing facts
and do what is needed to really erase the effects of racial
discrimination in those places where it is still doing great
harm, that is, take affirmative action. You have to be deaf,
dumb, and blind not to know that racial discrimination, past
and present, is still doing great harm to African Americans.
Bert Metzger, JD’61
I have never written to the Magazine
before, but I wanted to jump into the fray about racial preferences
at major universities like the University of Chicago (“Letters,”
My perspective on this question has
changed somewhat as a result of my collaboration on a project
for which the author toured the country interviewing surviving
children of American slaves. One of the things she discovered,
confirmed by the historical record, is that American slaves
made great strides in equality after the Civil War until
American whites instituted Jim Crow policies to hold them back.
The systematic racial discrimination
that took root with Jim Crow still plagues our society, as black
experience with “DWB” [“Driving While Black”]
illustrates. Slavery may have been 150 years ago, but systematic
discrimination was acceptable until very recently—at most
a generation ago. Even more insidiously, studies done with schoolchildren
and teachers, as well as with prospective employers viewing
résumés from “white- and “black”-named
job applicants, demonstrate that influential individuals in
our society are far from “color-blind.” A color-blind
society may be our goal, but it is not our present reality.
We have to set present policy to face that fact.
If the experience of Southern black
Americans after the Civil War can teach us anything, it surely
teaches us that motivated students can qualify and succeed at
an institution like the U of C even if their SAT scores didn’t
necessarily fall between 1500 and 1600. As Dr. Randel says,
“elite institutions…admit only a small fraction
of the applicants who would be qualified to do the work and
earn the degree.” Don’t get me wrong; I’m
not advocating quotas. It’s amply obvious, however, that
institutionalized and individual racial discrimination still
exists in this country—and my guess is, most black Americans
would say it’s still pretty widespread.
Until that’s no longer the case,
I believe it’s the responsibility of those on the other
side of the fence to try to redress this injustice. Since it
exists on both an individual and institutional level, we must
use both an individual examination of conscience and institutionalized
measures to try to level the playing field. Some might argue
that the great universities aren’t the place to take these
institutional measures. But I don’t see why every educational
level can’t be involved in making things right in this
Deborah Satinsky Cafiero, AB’89