More than four out of very five of the first-year white students at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville believe it is unfair to pick one student for admission over another equally qualified student on the basis of race, according to a survey of student opinion.
In response to the question, "If two applications are exactly equal in qualications, how fair is it to choose one because of race?" A total of 58.6 percent said it was "very unfair," and 22.8 percent said it was "somewhat unfair." Another 10.1 percent said they were "uncertain," and 8.5 percent said such selection was "very fair" or "somewhat fair."
In addition, 52 percent of the survey group said they disapprove of affirmative action programs in college admissions.
The questionnaires were given last month to 10 percent of the 2,348 first year white students at the university's Charlottesville campus.
Of the 15,500 students at the university's main campus in Charlottesville plus its various extensions elsewhere in the state, blacks make up 3.2 percent. Blacks compose 7 percent of the 2,515 first-year students in Charlottesville.
The university, which has an affirmative action program, has been under pressure, along with all the state's four-year predominantly white colleges, to increase black enrollment.
The results of the survey, which was administered by two undergraduates. James Greenbaum and Eileen Olds, are "probably a reliable indicator" of the views of white first-year students, according to assistant professor William Austin.
Austin, who taught the course in which the students prepared the survey, said the students interviewed represented "a substantial sample" of the university's freshmen.
He said the survey results are consistent with the findings of social psychological research he has done which found that the majority of the university's students interviewed feel an "ambivalence" toward the notion of discriminating in favor of minority applicants because of their race or ethnic background.
A number of students agree with the goals of admitting more minorities to colleges, but have problems accepting the procedure of affirmative action, he said.
Austin said he is not surprised at the survey's findings. "It's a very conservative lot here."
A spokesman said the university would have no comment on the survey.