Forum evaluates affirmative action ruling

A change in University’s admissions policy is the result of two lawsuits brought against the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policy.

Beth Hornby

With a more holistic admissions review process, undergraduate applicants to the University could benefit from a diverse student body, law professor Carol Chomsky said Monday at a forum on affirmative action and higher education.

The forum – hosted by the General College’s Center for Research on Developmental Education and Urban Literacy – featured Chomsky, professor Karen Miksch and University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg.

It focused on the June 23 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that called the University of Michigan’s use of race as an admissions factor constitutional. Rotenberg said the Michigan lawsuit was one of the most important civil rights cases in the last 50 years.

University admissions director Wayne Sigler said undergraduate application processes have not drastically changed in the last year. Primary factors such as the graduation proficiency test, SAT scores and high school rank are given the greatest consideration for first-year applicants, Sigler said.

He said that the only change in the fall undergraduate review process took place in the secondary review, in which factors showing how students can enhance campus diversity are considered.

“Race is only a small factor in the secondary review process, where it is only one factor among many,” Sigler said.

The recent change in the University’s admission policy is the result of two lawsuits brought against the University of Michigan’s affirmative action program.

Beginning this fall, incoming first-year students were reviewed using what administrators call a “holistic” assessment process. This process is based on an applicant’s overall assessment, not on a point system, Sigler said.

“We are not dealing with papers; we are dealing with people’s hopes and dreams. We work hard to be fair and consistent toward every individual, and consequently, we are in line with the Supreme Court’s decision,” Sigler said.

Rotenberg said admissions rationale must be clearly articulated. The applicant review process must be individualized and holistic. All applicants must compete against each other without separate tracks or criteria, he said.

Also, the University cannot set race quotas to achieve diversity goals. The use of race-conscience admissions tools must be temporary and must be reviewed periodically, Rotenberg said.

The University requires all academic departments to abide by these points, Rotenberg said. However, each department has its own admissions policy.

Chomsky said minority students will benefit from integrated access to a good education, while the white majority will benefit from a more diverse student body.

“The argument I am making is that diversity’s compelling interest is really also about the benefit of diversity for white students,” she said. “White students will leave the University with a better sense of other races and cultures.”

Rotenberg said the University’s policy changes have been minor and the impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling will not be felt right away.

“It is too early to tell whether there will be any large-scale changes any time soon,” he said.