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Rice: Race Could Factor in Admissions

January 18, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) _ National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said Friday race could be a factor in selecting colleges’ students, embracing a cornerstone of affirmative action that President Bush has avoided.

``It is appropriate to use race as one factor among others in achieving a diverse student body,″ the president’s most prominent black adviser said in a written statement.

The statement distanced Rice from some of the president’s most conservative advisers _ and to an extent from Bush’s own position.

In a narrowly tailored brief for a Supreme Court case, the president’s lawyers argued Thursday that the University of Michigan’s admissions system fails the constitutional test of equal protection for all and ignores race-neutral alternatives that could boost minority presence on campuses.

The Supreme Court could use the Michigan case to review a 25-year-old affirmative action ruling that said quotas were unconstitutional but left room for race being a factor in admissions. While Bush and his lawyers did not address whether race could ever be a consideration, Rice’s statement endorsed that aspect of the landmark 1978 Bakke decision.

Rice said she agreed with the president’s position ``which emphasizes the need for diversity and recognizes the continued legacy of racial prejudice, and the need to fight for it.″

``The president challenged universities to develop ways to diversify their populations fully,″ she wrote.

In a significant step beyond Bush’s own statements, she added: ``I believe that while race-neutral means are preferable, it is appropriate to use race as one factor among others in achieving a diverse student body.″

Rice, former provost at Stanford University, made a rare foray into domestic policy when she participated in intense internal debate over the Michigan program, which offers points to minority applicants and sets goals for minority admissions.

White House officials said she firmly argued her point to Bush that race could be used as a factor in admissions, though she agreed with his view that the Michigan program went too far. Officials said she did not object to Bush remaining silent on the issue in the brief.

They said Rice was stung by a Washington Post story that said she helped convince Bush that favoring minorities was not an effective way of improving diversity on college campuses.

Rice discussed the article with Bush, who urged her to go public with her differences, officials said.

Her statement quickly led to speculation that there were sharp differences between Rice and Bush. The adviser made a series of calls to reporters in an effort to dispute such talk.

``I could not be more supportive of what the president did and the way that he did it,″ Rice told one group of reporters.

In an interview with the American Urban Radio Network, Rice said she agreed that affirmative action is needed ``if it does not lead to quotas.″

With a quick defense of her views, Rice is certain to fuel speculation that she harbors political ambitions. Many Republicans consider her a potential presidential or vice presidential candidate.

``My own personal view is that there are circumstances in which it is necessary to use race as a factor among many factors in diversifying a college class,″ she told the network ``And so I’ve been a supporter of affirmative action that is not quota based and that does not seek to make race the only factor, but that considers race as one of many factors.″

Making a decision loaded with political implications, Bush set aside arguments by conservatives who wanted him to argue that race should never be used as a factor. His political advisers feared such an approach would alienate swing voters and minorities who want the GOP to be more tolerant.

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