4A - Wednesday, October 3, 2007
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
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KARL STAMPFL IMRAN SYED JEFFREY BLOOMER
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To maintain diversity, 'U' must do what worked elsewhere
Jits not easy to be a trailblazer. Fortunately for the University,
as it approaches its first full year of admissions applications
since affirmative action was banned in Michigan, there are
multiple success stories of universities that have promoted diver-
sity. While the University has historically been outspoken about
promoting diversity, it now has to work toward that end within
an unfairly constricting law. It should look to programs that other
universities forced to abandon affirmative action have adopted and
piece together the best of these time-tested programs. The Univer-
sity doesn't need to reinvent the wheel - trial and error is too much
TA E A E
If we took away women's right to vote, we'd never
have to worry about another Democrat president."
- Conservative pundit and University Law School alum Anne Coulter in an interview
printed today in The New York Observer.
Tuser this: Get over it
What Columbia University
President Lee Bollinger
did last week was perfectly
linger knew that to
dinejad is an abso-
lutely despicable "
man from a hated
knew that most GARY
ly disagreed with GRACA
him. He also knew
that his lesson in free speech would
prevail: Ahmadinejad is a relevant
world leader and whether we agree
with him or not, we should let him
have his say because he is a reality we
have to deal with. Besides, free speech
is the foundation of academia.
And when we made our own judg-
ments afterward - usually agreeing
withBollinger -we could patourselves
on the back for believing in free speech.
What great Americans we are. We're
making Thomas Jefferson blush.
But what happens when the speech
isn't coming from a world -leader?
What should we do if the speech is
provocative and obscene? What if the
speech is just plain stupid? What if the
"free speech" in question is an asinine
headline like "Taser this: Fuck Bush"?
Appearingas afour-word editorialon
Sept. 21 in Colorado State University's
student newspaper, The Rocky Moun-
tain Collegian, "Taser this: Fuck Bush"
didn't quite get the same response that
Bollinger got three days later. People
were confused by the editorial's mean-
ing and put off by its needless profanity.
Even Ahmadinejad's questioning of the
Holocaust was an argument, however
illogical it was.
This time, people weren't praising
the lofty principles of free speech; they
were gathering their pitchforks and
lanterns for a good old-fashioned mob
riot. Meanwhile, instead of admit-
ting his stupidity and apologizing,
the Collegian's editor in chief, David
McSwane, hid behind free speech
idealism. Defending the editorial and
claiming his First Amendment rights,
McSwane said thathe "feltitillustrated
our point about freedom of speech."
Of course, the natural follow up
question is: what point?
Chelsey Penoyer, chair of the CSU
chapter of the College Republicans,
had an answer. Correctly noticing
that the editorial "makes the students
at Colorado State look like a bunch of
uneducated children who don't have
anything intelligent to say," Penoyer
took her response one step further.
She argued that McSwane's stupidity
wasn't protected speech and that the
university should fire him.
The whole debacle has been framed
as a classic First Amendment clash,
even though neither of the two sides
have the best interests of free speech
in mind. If we really abided by the
First Amendment, both sides would
have to stop complaining and forget
about the whole thing.
Earlier this year, the same type of
free speech debate came up in the U.S.
Supreme Court. After a school princi-
pal in Alaska removed a 14-foot sign
posted by students that read "Bong
Hits 4 Jesus," the school district was
sued for violating the students' right
to free expression. Like the Collegian's
editorial, the case featured stupid-
ity, high-minded principles and, most
important, a dangerous overreaction.
With each side of the court claiming
the infamous 1969 decision in Tinker v.
Des Moines School District as its own,
the court's liberals reiterated that stu-
dents don't "shed their constitutional
rights ... at the schoolhouse gate," and
the conservatives argued that the ille-
gal drug references constituted a rea-
sonable exception, Justice Clarence
Thomas went one step further in his
concurring opinion, calling for Tinker
to be overturned: "In light of the his-
tory of American public education, it
cannot seriously be suggested that the
First Amendment 'freedom of speech'
encompasses a student's right to speak
in public schools."
The only voice of reason in the
whole debate was Justice Stephen
Breyer, who disagreed with both sides.
Taking the view that "resolving the
First Amendment question presented
in this case is, in my view, unwise
and unnecessary," Breyer declined to
decide the case on that criteria. Nar-
rowly scrutinizing the Constitution to
protect stupidity only serves to trivi-
alize the values that the First Amend-
ment was designed to uphold. Stupid
speech doesn't deserve the Supreme
Court's consideration or our own con-
sideration for better or worse.
Playing into Breyer's argument per-
fectly, the court's conservatives strung
together their notorious five-man
majority and added another caveat to
free speech at schools. Now, speech in
Stupid speech isn't
protected, but it's
not illegal either.
schools "promoting illegal drug use"
can be reasonably censored. Conse-
quently, schools are left to figure out
how to stop students from wearing
offensive T-shirts like the one featuring
a picture of President Bush, a martini
glass and lines of cocaine, that caused
a controversy in 2004 when a Vermont
student was forced to place duct tape
over the images.
So when it comes to the Collegian's
absurd editorial, we need to get over
ourselves and forget about it. While
stupidity isn't a protected right, it's
not illegal either.
Although no Supreme Court justice
would dare- cite him, the ultra-radical
Abbie Hoffman was partially correct in
rewording Justice Oliver Wendell Hol-
mes's famous ruling in Schenck v. United
States to make this point: "Free speech is
the right to shout'Theatre!' in a crowded
fire" - as stupid as that may sound.
Gary Graca is an associate
editorial page editor. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
of a risk given what is at stake.
After taking two affirmative action cases
all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in
2003, the University became a prominent
advocate of the value of diversity, especially
racial diversity, on college campuses. In a
country that still suffers the de facto seg-
regation left over from decades of codified
discrimination and segregation, affirmative
action was designed to be beneficial to all
races. It helped to break the cycle of discrim-
ination and segregation that was, and still is,
entrenched in American society. By giving
underrepresented minority students a small
advantage in admissions, it gave future gen-
erations a more equal opportunity, despite a
higher tendency to grow up in impoverished
Years before Michigan passed its ban,
California voters passed Proposition 209,
banning affirmative action. For years after
the ban, California's state universities strug-
gled to formulate an effective way to admit a
diverse incoming class without violating the
law. There were disastrous consequences.
Of the 4,852 incoming freshmen at UCLA
in 2006, only 96 were black - less than two
percent. But after a decade's worth of exper-
iments, UCLA has found a combination that
works, doubling its black student population
One of the solutions in California has been
increasing emphasis on giving preferences
to poor students, who are disproportionate-
ly minorities. At UCLA, one third of the stu-
dent body is made up of transfer students,
many of whom are from community colleg-
es, which are frequently alternatives for stu-
dents with socioeconomic disadvantages.
UCLA also stepped up its outreach program
to include trips to elementary schools and
even provides free plane tickets to admitted
students who wish to tour the campus but
can't afford to do so.
UCLA has also pointed out that it may
have more flexibility in the admissions pro-
cess itself than previously thought possible.
In the admissions process, the University
could indirectly consider race when it holis-
tically evaluates admissions essays. Because
racial discrimination can be considered a
disadvantage that some students must over-
come, there is no reason that this disad-
vantage cannot be given preference in the
University's admissions process. Michigan's
constitutional amendment does not explic-
itly prohibit the University from considering
disadvantage. Though that option under-
mines the spirit of Proposal 2, if diversity is
an ideal the University truly believes in, then
this is an option to seriously consider.
Coupled with an admissions advantage,
some universities have outsourced finan-
cial aid programs to alumni organizations,
which are in some cases not subject to
the public institution bans on affirmative
action. These organizations are free to cre-
ate a special fund, entirely separate from
the university, that grants scholarships to
students and gives preference to any group
it so chooses. These scholarships are tech-
nically independent from university admin-
istration and thus are outside the scope of
the affirmative action ban, but nonetheless
heighten the school's appeal to underrepre-
Some things the University is already
doing to some success. Chief among these
has been the University's outreach efforts.
Not only have these programs had good
responses from the community where they
have taken place, they help to promote the
image of the University as an open and
accepting place. Maintaining this image
is important to attract minority students
- unless minority students apply, there is no
way to admit them.
The University should not have to go 10
years before finding solution. At other uni-
versities, there are proven policies that can
serve as an outline - a practical guide to
maintaining diversity under unfair restric-
tions. Things have gotten harder since
last year, but diversity is an ideal that we
shouldn't give up in the face of adversity.
Welcome to Sound Bytes 101
In an era of molecular genetics, pro-
teomics, transcriptomes and biophys-
ics, deciphering science has become
a necessity for the public, and the sci-
entific sound byte has come to rule. On
the one hand, the use of sound bytes to
communicate science to the public is
an inevitable result of the increasingly
specialized compartmentalization of
scientific disciplines. On the other,
sound bytes are often too simple to
effectively explain all of the informa-
tion that the public may need to know.
Deepening this confusing dialectic,
there are instances in which the sound
byte has become a meme, which is an
element of cultural transmission - like
a gene for an idea.
A prime example of a scientific
sound-byte-cum-meme is the gene
itself. The debate between scientists as
to how much genes influence who we
are has been filtered down and trans-
muted through a bleary-eyed media
into the gene meme. We as nonscien-
tists can thus blame our genes and our
parents for whatever happens to be
convenient at the moment. We can say
that one has a "bad gene" or that we can
thank our parents for our "good genes"
or even that our intelligence must be
due to a recessive gene, because it sure
didn't come from you, Dad.
But to relegate this powerful subfield
ofbiologyto such simple terms does both
the science and ourselves agreat disser-
is a highly specialized field requiring a
lot of complex information and its own
special way ofthinking about problems.
Second, our lives are now more depen-
dent on science than ever before, both
on the operating table and in our cell
phones. Third, to truly understand sci-
ence, the general public must put forth
a great effort. Similarly, for scientists to
understand the general public (though
some may argue that there's no need),
scientists must put forth a great effort,
too. This usually doesn't happen and
the end result is that a relatively small
group of highly educated people makes
the discoveries that the rest of us don't
It may be said that there is sim-
ply too much technology and science
underpinning our everyday lives to
even begin to comprehend. Especially
in our fast-paced Western society, this
is probably true. Nonetheless, there is
a burden upon the general public to
understand some of the science around
which it lives so as to best utilize that
science. Likewise, there is a burden
scientists to at least try to effectively
communicate with broader society, or
else risk becoming irrelevant as that
This is where the sound byte
Simplistic as they may be, sound
bytes are necessary. The general pub-
lic can't read research papers and get
what it needs out of them in the same
way that a scientists can't get all the
information they need by reading a
newspaper story. Therefore, some kind
sound byte is theoretically perfect for
this. To take some kind of relevant dis-
covery, distill it down into 30 seconds
and tell it like it is in plain English.
The present situation can be boiled
down to the following: A relatively
small group of scientists make dis-
coveries that another relatively small
group of people then squish down into
shiny, happy sound bytes for mass con-
sumption. But as it is, the distillation
often distorts and falls flat without
demonstrations or examples.
In the end, the burden for compre-
hension is shared by all. First, the sci-
entists must make sure that the media
isn't distorting their research. Second,
the media must be honest with both the
scientific community and the general
public. Lastly, the general public must
ponder rather than merely perceive.
Alexander Honkala is an LSA
senior and a Daily cartoonist.
T THI< 7-\ '2
ECON i&oZ R ATdH EUAR)
SEND LETTERS TO: TOTHEDAILY@UMICH.
State legislators not worth the
money they give themselves
TO THE DAILY:
The letter to the editor in yesterday's Daily by Rohit
Mahajan made a valid point (State legislature fails to make
the most important cut of all, 10/01/2007).
Michigan's 148 legislators receive a base salary of $79,650
per year, which makes them the second-highest paid legisla-
tors in the nation after California. I would be OK with these
salaries if Michigan's economy was thriving, but, in case
you've been under a rock for the past seven years, Michigan's
economy is not in good shape. Our budget is in a shambles,
as recently shown by the near shutdown of non-essential
government services on Monday. Adding to the problem,
General Motors intends to close another plant in Livonia
and education spendinghas diminished year after year.
We could spend $13.5 million on something better than
Criticism of LSATs format
was itself logically flawed
TO THE DAILY:
It's ironic that Mike Eber's column in Monday's Daily
critiquing the LSAT was logically flawed (Making the case
for essays, 10/01/2007). Eber argued that the format of the
LSAT is notconducive to testing skills needed in law school,
yet he failed to back up his argument with anything more
than rhetorical questions. The only outside source he cited
contradicted his entire piece by stating the LSAT is a "bet-
ter predictor of law school performance than GPA alone."
The LSAT is designed to assess a person's ability to
think logically and quickly. One might argue that this skill
is equal in importance to writing. Additionally, Eber fails
to note that law schools assess the writing skills of appli-
cants through other means. GPA is an indicator of writ-
ing skill, as are the multiple admissions essays most law
Dean W. Baxtresser
First-year law student
Editorial Board Members: Kevin Bunkley, Ben Caleca, Milly Dick, Mike Eber, Brian Flaherty,
Gary Graca, Emmarie Huetteman, Theresa Kennelly, Gavin Stern, Jennifer Sussex,
Neil Tambe, Matt Trecha, Radhika Upadhyaya, Rachel Wagner