National report criticizes U policy

Megan Boldt

A Washington, D.C.-based think tank issued a report Thursday criticizing the University’s admissions policy — claiming minority students receive preferential treatment.
The Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative anti-affirmative action organization, charged that an Asian student is seven times more likely to be admitted to the Twin Cities campus than a white student.
Hispanic students are five times more likely to be admitted, and the odds of the University admitting a black student is three times higher than a white student, according to the report.
The study includes University admissions data from 1997-98 for the Twin Cities, Duluth, Morris and Crookston campuses. The Twin Cities and Duluth campuses enrolled the most minority students, according to the report.
University officials said Thursday the report is misleading and that the statistics in the report lack context.
“I thought this was a pretty weak report,” said University President Mark Yudof. “They looked at a two-year period of over 20,000 applications, and they identify only 37 instances where maybe white students were denied admittance over less-qualified black students.”
Officials pointed out that the center only based their statistics on academic data, ignoring different admissions criteria within various University colleges.
“At the University, we have eight colleges that accept freshmen into their programs,” said Wayne Sigler, director of admissions. “Each college has different admission standards.”
For instance, the acceptance of a Carlson School of Management freshman does not translate to the rejection of a College of Liberal Arts applicant, Sigler said.
The center’s report also mentioned that white students overall tend to have better test scores and high school ranking than minority students. In ACT scores, white students averaged two to five points higher than minority students, according the report.
By high school ranking, the gap between white and minority students was anywhere from one to nine points.
Yudof said that he would prefer admissions to be based on factors other than race or ethnicity, but at this time he feels that’s not possible.
“I like color blind,” said Yudof, who is constantly a strong supporter of affirmative action.
Linda Chavez, president of the center and director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights during the Reagan administration, disagrees with proponents of affirmative action like Yudof.
“The real debate is whether or not you fix past discrimination by invoking new discrimination against people who had no part in the past discrimination,” Chavez said.

Admissions criteria
The University does not weigh race as its most important factor when considering an applicant; however, Yudof said the admissions policy follows the 1978 Supreme Court Bakke ruling.
In that decision, justices ruled that race can be used as a factor in admitting a student — strict quotas, however, are prohibited.
If a student applies by Dec. 15 and meets the standard calculation based on his or her ACT score and high school rank, he or she will automatically be accepted.
Late applicants, or those who were not accepted by the calculated formula, will be put through an individual review process.
The review process includes many different standards that are used to assess students. All standards, including enhancing diversity, are weighed equally, Sigler said.
“We never sacrifice academic standards for numerical targets,” Sigler said.
He added that admissions do have some numerical targets that help guide the University through the recruitment process, but is not used as a quota in the admission process.
Admissions officers often seek the advice of the University’s General Counsel when affirmative action questions arise.
“This is not a legal area where a mathematical decision is possible,” General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said.
Rotenberg added that his office meets with administrators and offers advice on each individual case. Lawyers are looking to the Supreme Court to provide a clear-cut decision on affirmative action in higher education, he said.
“Everyone expects the Supreme Court in the next couple years will determine the extent race can be used in educational admissions,” Rotenberg said.
The idea of a lawsuit would not be shocking to the University, either, officials said.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if we were sued,” Yudof said. “If I was their lawyer, I would tell them this was a darn stupid lawsuit. They would find the affirmative action they disagree with in other universities across the United States.”
The Center for Individuals Rights, a legal group based in Washington, D.C., has filed lawsuits for individuals in similar cases. They successfully represented plaintiffs in the Hopwood case, a lawsuit that pinned white applicants against the University of Texas Law School. Two similar affirmative action cases are pending in Michigan.
“So far we haven’t been contacted by any students or applicants in Minnesota in regards to this report,” said Terry Pell, senior counsel for the center. “There are no lawsuits pending.”

— This article contains information from The Associated Press.

Megan Boldt welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3224.