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Q&A re University of Michigan Admissions Policies

Following are answers to some common questions about our admissions processes and the lawsuits we are facing.

 

Q:  

Is it lawful for the University to consider race in admissions?

A:  

Yes, under current law, universities are permitted to take an applicant's race into account. The Supreme Court in its 1978 Bakke ruling said that the educational benefit of diversity is a compelling government interest justifying the use of race as a factor in admissions, as long as all students admitted are fully qualified and their admissions are not based on quotas.

Justice Powell, who wrote the Court's decision in the Bakke case, said race could be used as a "plus factor" in an admissions process. When race is used as a plus factor, it necessarily influences admissions decisions. At its simplest, whenever an adjustment is made for any characteristic, that adjustment may prove to have made a difference in the ultimate admissions decision.

Our consideration of race is legal according to Bakke, because race is only one of many factors that admissions counselors use in selecting students for admission to the University. Our admissions processes do not use quotas, targets or other numeric goals, and only qualified students with a high probability of succeeding at Michigan are offered admission.

 

Q:  

Is Michigan's admissions process unique?

A:  

Virtually all the selective universities in this country take race into account in admissions. Different schools may have different methods for considering race in their admissions equations. Our methods in both undergraduate and Law School admissions at Michigan are two lawful means of using race as a "plus factor."

 

Q:  

What does the University say to students who feel they were academically qualified for admission, yet rejected?

A:  

Each year, Michigan receives many more applications from well qualified students than we can admit to the entering class. This past year, we received more than 23,700 applications for about 5,400 spaces in the incoming freshman class, and about 3,400 applications for 350 spaces in the Law School. In the end, the University must reject thousands of applications from talented students. We fully appreciate the sense of disappointment felt by an unsuccessful applicant. But the limited size of the entering class requires that the University exercise judgment and choose among this talented applicant pool to assemble a student body it believes will provide the richest possible environment in which to pursue higher education.

 

Q:  

Does the University's consideration of race hurt a white student's chances of getting into the University?

A:  

No. The numbers of minority applicants are extremely small compared to the numbers of white students who apply to the University. The Law School, for example, this past year offered admission to 38 percent of its white applicants and 35 percent of black applicants. Out of a fall 2000 entering class of 367, only 37 students were African American. Similarly, of the approximately 15,000 applications received each year for admissions to the College of Literature, Science & the Arts, only about 1,600 come from underrepresented minorities. It is not mathematically possible that the small numbers of minority students who apply and are admitted are "displacing" a significant number of white students under any scenario.

William Bowen and Derek Bok, in their book "The Shape of the River," look at the nationwide statistics concerning admissions to selective universities. They determined that even if all selective universities used a race-blind admissions system, the probability of being admitted for a white student would go only from 25 percent to 26.2 percent.

 

Q:  

How does the 20 points for race fit into the rest of Michigan's undergraduate admissions process?

A:  

Our undergraduate admissions office is staffed with a group of professional counselors, assigned by regions of the country, who develop relationships with and specialized knowledge of the high schools in those regions. Throughout the admissions process, counselors consider a variety of information about an applicant, including the application, essay, high school transcript, letters of recommendation, and communications with high school counselors and teachers. To help evaluate the items in the file, the counselors use a Selection Index worksheet. That worksheet guides the counselor but does not solely determine admissions decisions.

The Selection Index used for the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts has 150 total points. Race is only one of a variety of factors that are considered. By far the greatest weight---up to 80 points---goes to high school G.P.A. Applicants can earn up to 12 points for SAT or ACT scores, up to 10 points for attending a competitive high school, and up to 8 points for taking the most challenging curriculum. Points are awarded for personal achievement, leadership and service, and for being an alumni legacy. Students also can earn points for coming from a geographic area that is less well represented on our campus. For instance, 16 points are given to students from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

In a miscellaneous category, students can earn a total of 20 points for having an economically disadvantaged background, being an underrepresented minority, attending a high school serving a predominately minority population, or being a scholarship athlete, among others. The essay is an important portion of the application where students can communicate their unique personal histories and circumstances. Even though we only give 3 points (it used to be 1) for the quality of writing in the essay, the content of the essay may factor into many other portions of the admissions process.

Taken as a whole, the many criteria we consider are effective in composing a student body that is diverse in a variety of ways, as well as outstanding academically.

 

Q:  

If you consider race in admissions, doesn't that mean you have a two-track system?

A:  

No. All students are considered using the same criteria and the same process. "Two-track" is a label applied by our opponents to describe the fact that race is considered and can make a difference. Under this logic, we could be said to have a different track for every element of our admissions process: geography, outstanding leadership, alumni legacy, attending a competitive high school, etc.

 

Q:  

How can you prove that having a diverse student body results in a better education?

A:  

Research shows that all college students, non-minority and minority alike, learn better when the learning takes place in a setting where they are confronted with others who are different than themselves. U-M Professor Patricia Gurin found that students who experienced the most racial and ethnic diversity in classroom settings and in informal interactions with peers showed the greatest engagement in active thinking processes, growth in intellectual engagement and motivation, and growth in intellectual and academic skills. Students educated in a diverse environment are also better able to understand and consider multiple perspectives, deal with the conflicts that different perspectives sometimes create and appreciate the common values and integrative forces that harness differences in pursuit of the common good.

Faculty members across our campus can relate experiences where the learning taking place in their classrooms has been powerfully affected either by the presence of students from different races, or the lack thereof. For example, students' racial identities may affect their perception of important works of literature, their views on the political process and the role of government, and their analysis of marketing strategy. In the Law School, notes Dean Jeffrey Lehman, class discussions on topics such as racial profiling by police are profoundly different---and more intellectually challenging---when the classroom is racially integrated. A diverse classroom also allows students to dispel stereotypes they may harbor about race and viewpoint.

Race still matters in American society. Your race continues to have a large effect on where you live, where you go to school, who your friends are, and what doors are open or closed to you. Americans of different races lead surprisingly separate lives. This is especially true in Michigan, which has three of the 10 most segregated cities in the nation. Ninety-two percent of the University's white students and 52 percent of its African American students grow up in racially separate communities. The result of this separation is that Michigan's incoming students have rarely had the opportunity to get to know and learn from peers of different races before coming to our campus.

 

Q:  

Wouldn't the minority students you are admitting do better elsewhere?

A:  

No. Research shows that the minority students who are challenged in a tougher academic environment, on average, perform better academically and achieve higher graduation rates than those admitted to less selective or less rigorous colleges and universities. This research has controlled for self-selection, so it is not just measuring the fact that the students at these more selective schools have stronger academic credentials.

 

Q:  

Does Michigan have any support for its views?

A:  

The University of Michigan has received broad-based support for its efforts to maintain a diverse student body. Many organizations and entities have filed "friend of the Court" briefs on behalf of the University in the two lawsuits. These include 21 multinational corporations, led by General Motors and Steelcase; numerous higher education organizations including the American Council on Education, the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, and the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (composed of the Big Ten schools plus the University of Chicago); the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the United States; the Attorney General of Michigan; the State of Ohio; the Association of American Law Schools; the National Association of Social Workers; and Wayne State University.

 

Q:  

Why are corporations supporting the University's goal of diversity?

A:  

In their amicus briefs, the corporations argue that diversity in higher education plays a critical role in preparing students to be leaders in business and other pursuits that affect the public interest. Their briefs state that racial and ethnic diversity in institutions of higher education is vital to the corporations' efforts to hire and maintain an effective workforce.

Participants in the briefs report that managers and employees who graduated from institutions with diverse student bodies are better prepared to understand, learn from and collaborate with others from a variety of racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds; demonstrate creative problem solving by integrating differing perspectives; exhibit the skills required for good teamwork; and demonstrate more effective responsiveness to the needs of all types of consumers. As a great public university, the U-M has an obligation to train the next generation of leaders who are prepared for the global, multiracial society they will be a part of.

 

Q:  

Isn't the fact that you're being sued evidence that you're doing something wrong?

A:  

The Center for Individual Rights (CIR), which brought these two lawsuits, is a special-interest legal organization funded by private sources. It has mounted a campaign of lawsuits and legislative initiatives in an attempt to dismantle affirmative action programs nationwide. CIR doesn't really care how the University considers race in its admissions policies, nor whether 20 points is the right amount to "count" race in our undergraduate admissions system. They find just as much fault with the Law School admissions process, which does not use a point system at all. For CIR, any consideration of race in an attempt to build a diverse educational environment is wrong. We hold a profoundly different view. We believe our system is the best one available to enroll academically qualified students of all races, and furthermore, that it is legal and fair.

 

Q:  

What will happen to the composition of the University of Michigan student body if the University loses this lawsuit?

A:  

If we are not permitted to consider race as a factor in our admissions process, we believe it will have a devastating effect on our ability to assemble a diverse student body. It is likely that the number of minority students enrolled at the University would decline significantly.

The experience at California's flagship public universities, Berkeley and the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), bears this out. Admission levels of underrepresented minorities---Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans---remain well below where they were prior to Proposition 209, the voter initiative that banned the use of race in university admissions. At Berkeley, they are down 44 percent and at UCLA they are down 36 percent from pre-Proposition 209 levels.

Other systems, such as using economic status as a proxy for race or admitting a given percentage of high graduating classes, are not as effective and have other serious flaws as well. The "percent solution" plans, for example, have the potential to shut out well-qualified students who attend competitive high schools, and they are more likely to admit students who are not academically prepared to do the work. They require a segregated system of secondary education for success, and do not work for graduate education because there are no similar segregated underpinnings on which to build. In states with affirmative action bans, minority enrollment at graduate schools has dropped dramatically and stayed low.

Revised: January 3, 2001



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