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    University chief says Talented 20 has 'fatal flaw'

    The University of Michigan president tells how his school is fighting legal challenges to affirmative action.

    By MATTHEW BOEDY

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2001


    GAINESVILLE -- One of the nation's leading supporters of affirmative action said Wednesday that Gov. Jeb Bush's program to attract minorities has a "fatal flaw" because it could fail to add diversity to Florida's top universities.

    Lee Bollinger, president of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said Bush's method of guaranteeing a spot in a Florida university to the top 20 percent of high school graduates won't bring minorities to Florida's top-tier institutions.

    The Florida approach -- similar to others in California and Texas -- also attracts some students who are ill-prepared, Bollinger said. "If I have to admit the top 5 percent of every high school class in Michigan, we are going to have many students who are not ready for the quality of education at Michigan," he told an audience at the University of Florida.

    Bush's "Talented 20" plan guarantees admission to one of the state's 10 public universities to all high school students who graduate in the top 20 percent of their classes and pass a required academic curriculum. It is part of his broader and much-debated One Florida initiative banning race as a criteria in college admission.

    Elizabeth Hirst, spokeswoman for Bush, said the first year of the Talented 20 plan has not hurt diversity.

    "The Talented 20 has been successful, even with limited implementation," she said. "We have seen an increase in minority students in all Florida's universities, including our flagships."

    Terence Pell, executive director of the Center for Individual Rights, the Washington-based group that is suing Michigan, agreed.

    "So far, the evidence is in the other direction," he said. "Other states have been experiencing diversity at all their schools."

    Under Bollinger, Michigan is fighting legal challenges to its affirmative action policies.

    "We set out to prove race is still significant in American life," he said.

    In the early 1990s, a lawsuit forced Texas to drop its race-based admission policy. In 1996, Proposition 209 banned race-based policies in California.

    Bollinger said after California, he knew Michigan would be next.

    Michigan's affirmative action policy cost $5-million in legal fees and has withstood one legal battle. In December, a federal judge upheld its undergraduate policy. A judgment on Michigan's law school policy is expected soon.

    The cases are expected to end in the Supreme Court because other federal judges have knocked down affirmative action.

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