Originally created 06/03/01

Collegian discusses rejection



CLEMSON, S.C. - Molly Beckenhauer is a bat girl when the now-empty baseball stadium is packed with cheering fans.

The college senior lives on the dorm's eighth floor with her Gamma Phi Beta sorority sisters.

And most of her marketing classes are about a fifteen-minute walk across campus.

Once, the 1999 Lakeside High graduate had plans to take that daily walk at the University of Georgia.

But she never got to call herself a Bulldog. She's a Clemson University tiger.

Her college plans were altered a little more than two years ago when Georgia rejected her - in part because of her race.

But though she never attended the University of Georgia, she's left her mark there.

Ms. Beckenhauer is one of three white women who took on the powerful university after being denied admission, saying the university used race and gender in its admissions process. They won their suit in July, prompting the university to change its policies and offer them a place at Georgia.

But that was only a few days before Ms. Beckenhauer was to begin her second year at Clemson, and she was already a Tiger at heart.

"It just wasn't a sound decision at the time," the 19-year-old from Martinez said. "Financially, socially and academically, I realized how far ahead I was here."

Georgia appealed the ruling, and last month a three-judge panel for the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta heard arguments in the case. Their decision is expected by the end of the summer.

University of Georgia officials refused to comment about the case because it is pending litigation.

Rejection

The appeals court's decision will come more than two years after the dispute began.

During her senior year, Ms. Beckenhauer applied to six universities, including the University of Georgia and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

"UGA was the only school in Georgia I really wanted to go to," she said.

But when she got her Georgia rejection letter, Ms. Beckenhauer was dumbfounded.

"How could every single other school, including Georgia Tech, which is ranked a whole lot higher, accept me and UGA not?"

Later, she learned about the numerical formula used at Georgia to calculate who is granted admission. The formula included race and gender.

She scored 1,140 on the SAT, graduated from high school with a 3.2 GPA, and had 26 credits from Augusta State University.

The average SAT score for the 1999 freshman class at the University of Georgia was 1,195. The average GPA was 3.62.

In high school, Ms. Beckenhauer was involved in numerous activities, including student council and Spanish club. She was captain of two varsity sports teams and was in Who's Who Among American High School Students for three years.

"You can't control how you are born. How am I supposed to help it if I am a guy or a girl?" Ms. Beckenhauer said. "They can't discriminate like that.

"They need to change, not me," she said.

That's why her attorney, Lee Parks of Atlanta, became involved in the case and is currently working without pay. If the ruling does not change after the appeals process, Mr. Parks said, the state will pay his fees.

"You just can't pass over more qualified people because of race or gender. That's unconstitutional," Mr. Parks said. "To me, that's no better than when people were denied admission to UGA because they were black."

Significance

Though she is involved in a case that could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, it's not something Ms. Beckenhauer thinks about on a daily basis.

She fills her days with classes, friends, sports, work and just being a college student. Although her friends occasionally ask how the case is going, her situation is not widely known at Clemson.

But she knows how important this case is.

If the appeals court rules against the University of Georgia, no college in Florida, Georgia or Alabama - the area of the court's jurisdiction - that accepts federal funding will be allowed to use race or gender qualifications in its admissions process, Mr. Parks said.

And if the university loses again and appeals, Mr. Parks said, there is a chance the country's highest court will hear the case.

Involvement

Ms. Beckenhauer became involved in the lawsuit after her mother, Cathy Beckenhauer, read a newspaper article about Mr. Parks and another client who was suing the University of Georgia because it used race and gender in admissions decisions.

Mrs. Beckenhauer realized her daughter had similar grades and SAT scores, so they contacted Mr. Parks, who had received numerous calls about the case.

"I looked at grades, SAT scores and extracurricular activities and chose those who were clearly superior," Mr. Parks said.

Ms. Beckenhauer said deciding to participate in the case was an easy decision because she had nothing to lose..

"I think maybe some people would think it was racist," Ms. Beckenhauer said. "It not really racism though. It's reverse discrimination, and I was the one being discriminated against."Ms. Beckenhauer decided participating in the case was worth it, and in July 1999, it was filed in federal district court.

Meanwhile, she was taking summer classes at Clemson.

"There wasn't time to get bogged down about it," Ms. Beckenhauer said of her rejection. "I had to move on to Plan B."

Opportunity

But "Plan B" wasn't so easy at first.

Ms. Beckenhauer had failed to sign up for housing in time at Clemson because she was waiting for her Georgia acceptance letter.

Instead of being in freshman housing with other new students, Ms. Beckenhauer was placed on a sorority floor.

But things fell into place. She pledged a sorority and got involved in campus activities.

A year later, she was so involved in her activities that, when the judge ruled Georgia's admissions policies unconstitutional and offered Ms. Beckenhauer the opportunity to go to the university, she didn't know what to do.

By that time, Ms. Beckenhauer was taking courses in her major. If she transferred to Georgia, the rules would require her to wait a year to continue.

Though she was paying out-of-state tuition at Clemson, she was going to graduate early if she stayed.

And she would have to start all over again with friends and activities.

"I walk across campus and know this place makes me happy," Ms. Beckenhauer said. "I belong here now."

Instead, she took the $7,000 the judge ordered the University of Georgia to pay her as compensation for Clemson's out-of-state tuition, and is continuing life as a Tiger.

Ms. Beckenhauer will graduate from Clemson in December, three semesters early.

She will be 20 years old, and she hopes to work in Atlanta as a pharmaceutical representative.

"I think meeting and talking to people, trying to sell medicine and building relationships with people sounds really fun," Ms. Beckenhauer said excitedly.

She said she has never regretted anything about being involved with the case, despite some negative publicity. "I think it's exciting to be part of something this big," Ms. Beckenhauer said. "I've never been afraid to get out there and show myself."

If the case ever does make it to the Supreme Court, Ms. Beckenhauer plans to be there.

"It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to see something like that, especially if it's you," Ms. Beckenhauer said. "But I never dreamed I'd ever do something like this. Never in a million years."

Reach Teresa Wood at (706) 823-3765.

Entry process

In 1999, University of Georgia applicants could have gone through a three-step process.

Here's how it worked:

Ninety percent of freshman admitted were judged based on their Academic Index, a number derived using a student's SAT score and grade point average. SAT scores counted two-thirds, and grades counted one-third. Students with an Academic Index of 2.86, or 2.81 for very difficult curriculums, were admitted.

The next step was the Total Student Index for students with an Academic Index of 2.4 or better. Twelve factors, including race, gender, extracurricular activities and whether parents attended Georgia were considered.

Nonwhite applicants received half an extra point, and men received an extra quarter-point. Those below 4.66 were denied admission, and those above 4.92 were accepted.

Molly Beckenhauer had a Total Student Index of 4.06. Had she been a minority male, she would have had an index of 4.81, which would have advanced her to the next step in the entry process.

In the final step, each application was reviewed for "qualities that might not have been apparent at the Academic Index and Total Student Index stages."