- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2003

Correction

A story in yesterday’s paper incorrectly reported the starting date for the University of Michigan’s new undergraduate admissions policy. It will apply to the Class of 2008.

The University of Michigan yesterday replaced its unconstitutional racial point system with an admissions program that gives academic factors “the most consideration” but still considers race.

“We have discarded the point system completely,” Michigan Provost Paul Courant said of the substitute plan, which he said de-emphasizes racial factors.

“We continue to believe in gathering a group of students that are very bright but different from one another. … Students from all walks of life and backgrounds,” Mr. Courant said.

The process for applications for the Class of 2009, to be filed by the Feb. 1, 2004, deadline, requires the same detailed racial disclosures about the candidate, but asks new questions about his or her family’s education and financial status.

The change most critics focused on yesterday is introduction of a mandatory “short essay” that examines attitudes on racial and ethnic diversity.

Applicants must choose whether to describe how their admission would contribute to “an academically superb and widely diverse educational community” or tell how a personal experience involving “cultural diversity — or a lack thereof” changed their lives.

“Factors that illustrate the student’s academic achievements and potential — including high school grades, standardized test scores, the choice of curriculum, and the student’s educational environment — will be given the most consideration” when considering admission to Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts.

That assurance did not convince Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity, who called it unfortunate that race and ethnicity still will be considered.

“It’s also unfortunate that they’ve included an essay question that will probably be interpreted to require either that a student have the right skin color or that he recite a pledge of allegiance to diversity,” Mr. Clegg said.

Terence Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights — which provided lawyers for the white students who challenged the university’s admissions policies — was noncommittal yesterday after reviewing an advance copy provided by the school.

“If race continues to trump most other admissions factors, the new system will be just as illegal as the system the court struck down,” Mr. Pell said.

No longer is the plan’s centerpiece the 150-point system that President Bush called a quota and condemned because it gave more weight to a high school graduate’s race than to scores on standardized admissions tests.

University Communications Director Julie Peterson said the new plan was not submitted to the court and the school’s lawyers do not believe it must be unless the Center for Individual Rights asks the lower court to review it.

“We absolutely believe this complies with the Supreme Court’s requirements,” Miss Peterson said.

After declaring the point system unconstitutional on June 23, the Supreme Court remanded the case to the federal trial court, which has not yet convened.

Assessments of some 26,000 applications a year now will be made one at a time. Each application will first be evaluated by a reader. Readers typically are former educators working part time; Michigan will hire 16 more to handle its applications. After a reader assesses an application, it then will be evaluated separately by a counselor who has not seen the reader’s analysis. When the two evaluations disagree, the application be sent to a committee for a decision.

About half of all applicants are accepted at the university’s Ann Arbor campus.

In addition to what it calls “underrepresented minority identification,” the university will consider such other factors as where an applicant lives, alumni connections, leadership potential and socioeconomic status.

“No single, nonacademic factor has a disproportionate impact on the overall admissions decision,” school officials said.

The point system also was said to lean heavily on academic factors, but the court’s 6-3 opinion written by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist brushed off that assertion and said it was arranged so that admission was “virtually automatic” for blacks, Hispanics and American Indians who got 20 of the needed 100 points.

By treating entire racial groups differently, that policy violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the court ruled.

University officials produced the new plan just two months after the Supreme Court rejected the school’s claim that more individualized consideration was “impractical” to accomplish.

“The fact that the implementation of a program capable of providing individualized consideration might present administrative challenges does not render constitutional an otherwise problematic system,” the high court said of that claim.

The new process provides what the school calls “individualized, holistic” consideration of prospective freshmen. Those words were borrowed from a separate Supreme Court ruling that upheld the affirmative-action method the university law school uses to achieve what it calls a “critical balance of under-represented minorities.”

In that case, the high court explicitly ruled 5-4 that tax-supported universities may use race as a “plus factor” if they make individual choices about whom to admit.

“We will be seeking in the undergraduate class, like we do in the law school, critical mass,” Mr. Courant said yesterday. “The court said that race may be a factor in admissions.”

“This is just a naked attempt to maintain quotas,” Abigail Thernstrom, a Republican member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, said yesterday.

The school said the strategy will be monitored and revised from year to year to create “a student body that is both academically excellent and diverse in many ways.” It will cost an additional $1.5 million to $2 million the first year and $1 million yearly after that, Miss Peterson said.

The incoming Class of 2008 was the last to be filtered by the discredited system. The Class of 2007, selected from 25,108 applicants, included 1,799 blacks, 891 Hispanics, 124 American Indians, 3,861 Asian-Americans and 14,312 whites. Others gave no racial identification or were foreign residents.

The university posted an overview of the system, explanations of its changes and a 14-page sample application form on its Web site.

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