U reviews its policy on affirmative action

Michelle Kibiger

Mark Rotenberg, the University’s general counsel, said he and his office are currently reviewing all of the University’s affirmative action policies to make sure they are in compliance with federal regulations.
His comments came after the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal of a case that ruled race-based admissions policies are unconstitutional. Its refusal to hear the case allowed the original ruling of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi within its jurisdiction, to stand.
In the case, a white man successfully sued the University of Texas Law School for racial discrimination because of its admissions policies.
Although the case only serves as legal precedent within its jurisdiction, University officials are concerned about how it might affect efforts to provide equal opportunity in higher education.
Rotenberg said if Minnesota were affected by this ruling, the University would have to address some difficult issues regarding its graduate and professional programs.
“I wouldn’t say that we would clearly have to change any policies, but we’d have to address some very difficult issues,” regarding factors used in determining admission, he said.
Each graduate and professional program at the University employs its own policies regarding admission, and none of those policies were questioned by the suit. But the fact that the Supreme Court let the precedent stand might encourage other lawsuits like it.
Wayne Sigler, director of undergraduate admissions at the University, said students are admitted either automatically by meeting all the requirements, or are allowed in after a review of their individual record.
There is no formula, but University admissions officers consider various factors such as test scores, class rank, grades, special talents or skills and ethnic, geographic or programmatic diversity.
“Our objective is to determine if the applicant has a reasonable chance for academic success at the University of Minnesota,” Sigler said.
Minnesota Attorney General Hubert (Skip) Humphrey III supported the University of Texas in the lawsuit by signing a brief filed by Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran. According to the brief, states have a compelling interest in creating diverse student bodies.
“We have to ask ourselves,” said Camilla Nelson from Humphrey’s office, “whether we are providing an equal opportunity to higher education, if in fact the figures indicate that students of color are more often denied admission.”
“It was a statement of agreement with the philosophy that educational diversity is fundamental now and will be forevermore in the coming years,” Nelson said.
The attorney generals of Arizona, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oklahoma and West Virginia also agreed that a diverse academic environment enriches the learning experience for everyone involved.
Daniel Farber, University Law School professor, said that because of the publicity of this case and the public interest group that brought suit, he expects to see other suits like it. He also said the climate against affirmative action programs in California and other states encourages challenges.
“The University of California has ended its affirmative action programs,” Farber said. “When you have the flagship public university system in the country (against it), then it’s a lot easier” for other universities to discontinue affirmative action.