William Raspberry assumes that those opposing affirmative-action college admissions oppose considering the individual circumstances of applicants and instead favor a mechanical use of uniform admissions standards ["A Subtle Thumb on the Scale," op-ed, Aug. 30]. Not true. Under the laws of this country, colleges may consider anything they want and be as flexible as they like, so long as they do not discriminate on the basis of race and ethnicity.

Mr. Raspberry also declares that affirmative action ought to be available, in close cases, as a subtle thumb on the scale to help those whose circumstances have given them few advantages.

But the system never has worked that way. Studies by the Center for Equal Opportunity have demonstrated that overwhelming weight is given to race. Further, it helps mostly upper-middle-class blacks and naturally hurts whites and Asians whose circumstances have given them few advantages.

Finally, Mr. Raspberry argues that it ought to be acceptable for a college to consider the overall racial and ethnic mix of admitted students, just as the restaurateur pays attention to the prestige quotient of the overall mix of his clientele.

But I doubt that Mr. Raspberry would defend a restaurateur's decision to cap the number of blacks he seats, and so it is surprising that he thinks colleges should be able to do the same thing to whites and Asians.

HUGH JOSEPH BEARD

Senior Counsel

Center for Equal Opportunity

Washington