September 29, 2011

UW bias busters not open about funding

The other day a journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison asked me if I knew where the Center for Equal Opportunity gets its funding.

It’s a good question.

The Virginia-based center, which opposes affirmative action and bilingual education, recently released a pair of reports accusing the UW-Madison of rampant discrimination — against white people and Asians. The beneficiaries of this alleged bias are African Americans and Latinos.

Center chairman Linda Chavez, a prominent conservative, called it “the most severe undergraduate admissions discrimination” her group has found over the past 15 years. She said hundreds of applicants to the university and its law school “are rejected in favor of students with lower test scores and grades” for discriminatory reasons, like “the wrong skin color.”

That an outside group would raise a fuss about reverse discrimination at UW-Madison, commonly seen as having too little diversity, struck some as peculiar. (The Wisconsin State Journal ran a cartoon on the controversy showing a lone black male in a sea of white faces with the caption, “Affirmative action run amok at the UW-Madison.”)

The center’s study claims that, for undergraduates in 2007 and 2008, UW-Madison “admitted more than seven out of every 10 black applicants, and more than eight out of 10 Hispanics, versus roughly six in 10 Asians and whites.”

These conclusions are drawn from information obtained from UW-Madison, but they seem at odds with other university numbers. While directly comparable data are not currently available, the UW-Madison’s numbers for new freshmen as well as for transfer students show considerably lower admission rates for blacks than for whites in both fall 2007 and fall 2008.

According to these numbers, only 43 and 41 percent of black freshman applicants were admitted during these years, compared to admission rates of 57 and 55 percent for whites, respectively.

I asked Roger Clegg, the center’s president, about this apparent discrepancy. He suggested several general possibilities, like that the university gave the center inaccurate data, but said he doubted it would undermine the “overwhelming evidence of discriminatory treatment that we found.”

And what about the group’s funding? I couldn’t find any information about this on its website.

“I don’t know whether we post that or not,” Clegg told me, in one of several conversations. Nor would he tell me where his group gets its money, except to say it’s all from individuals and foundations, not the government or corporations.

Clegg did point out a recent statement in which the Milwaukee-based Lynne and Harry Bradley Foundation says it “substantially supports” the center’s work. He said this and other funders were all “mainstream conservative foundations.”

But why not say who they are? That’s what we do at the nonprofit and nonpartisan Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, supported in part by grants from foundations established by lefty billionaire George Soros, which have supplied about 30 percent of our overall funding. All three dozen of our funding sources are listed online — and the money comes with no editorial strings attached.

We believe people ought to be able to learn this, and to gauge for themselves whether it matters.

The Center for Equal Opportunity’s nonprofit tax filing for 2009 shows that it raised about $476,000. But the public report does not reveal where the group’s funding comes from, and the law allows public charities to withhold this information.

Media Matters, a progressive watchdog (yes, it’s gotten money from Soros), lists about $5 million in foundation grants to the center from 1995 to 2009. This includes $1.6 million from the John M. Olin Foundation, $850,000 from the Bradley Foundation, and $845,000 from the Sarah Scaife Foundation.

I emailed this list to Clegg on Sept. 23 and invited him to provide additional information or perspective. He didn’t.

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