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Archived Document

U-M response to White House announcement on affirmative action,
January 15, 2003

Why Michigan's Former Admissions Systems Comply with Bakke and
Are Not Quotas

Revised February 21, 2003

  • Every application is reviewed individually, and admissions counselors look at the whole person in that review. The University considers each student's academic strength, personal achievement, and life experiences, among many other factors.

  • Academic qualifications---including grades, test scores, and strength of curriculum---are by far the overwhelming criteria in making admissions decisions.

  • There are no separate tracks or set-asides. There are no numerically specified or minimum targets. Every applicant competes against the entire class.

  • Race is only one of the many factors considered in the admissions process. Every year some white students are admitted with lower test scores and lower GPAs than some minority students who are rejected---reflecting the consideration of many other factors in this individualized review.

  • More than 25,000 applications are received each year for about 5,000 spaces in the University of Michigan's freshman class, and more than 5,000 applications are received each year for about 350 spaces in the U-M Law School. The University chooses from among these highly qualified applicants those students who will make the greatest contribution to the class as a whole.

  • In the undergraduate admissions system, a 150-point Selection Index is used as a tool to help counselors consistently assess the large pool of applicants each year. Fully 110 points are awarded for academic factors. While students who are underrepresented minorities can earn 20 points in this system, the same 20 points can be earned by those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged or who attend a high school that serves a predominately minority population, regardless of the student's race (however, the 20 points can only be awarded once). Geographic diversity is important, and students from Michigan's largely white Upper Peninsula earn 16 points. Men applying to Nursing and women applying to Engineering also receive special consideration.

  • Undergraduate admissions counselors review each file individually, but the Selection Index helps them evaluate the thousands of applications that are submitted. Counselors often bring individual applications before a review committee for further discussion and consideration. Taken as a whole, the Selection Index works very well in choosing a student body that is academically excellent and diverse in many ways.

  • The University does seek to enroll a "critical mass" of students from underrepresented minority groups in order to achieve the educational benefits of diversity. More than token numbers of minority students are needed in order to ensure that students will have significant opportunities to interact with one another. It is from these interactions that the educational benefits result. A critical mass of students of a particular race allows all students to see differences within racial groups, and commonalities across racial lines. Critical mass is an educational concept---not a fixed number or target.

  • The concept of a critical mass is consistent with the Supreme Court's guidance in the 1978 Bakke decision. As Justice Powell noted in that case, "some attention must be paid to the numbers" to achieve the educational benefits of diversity. By having the educational goal of "critical mass" in mind, our programs also satisfy the legal requirement that a program be "narrowly tailored" to meet the compelling interest in a diverse student body.

  • The numbers of enrolled students from underrepresented minority groups vary from year to year. For example, over the past decade, the number of enrolled students in the Law School from underrepresented minority groups ranged from 12.5 to 20.1%. During that same time period the percentage of U-M law students from New York ranged from 5.5 to 9.7%, but no one would argue there is a quota for New Yorkers. The number of enrolled students whose last name begins with the letter "S" ranged from 9.7 to 13.8%. These groupings occur because of characteristics of the applicant pool, not because there is any specific, predetermined numerical target."

  • As a baseline, the University accepts only students who are academically qualified to do the work. Indeed, the alternatives suggested by the Bush administration (such as the percentage plans in California and Texas) operate more like set-asides for highly segregated school districts, and fail to guarantee that all admitted students are qualified to do the work.

  • Michigan's current policies have been upheld as being consistent with Bakke. In the Law School case, for example, the Sixth Circuit explicitly rejected the plaintiffs' contention that its system was the "functional equivalent of a quota." The Sixth Circuit found the Law School's admissions program is "virtually indistinguishable" from the Harvard Plan, which Justice Powell held out in the Bakke decision as an appropriate model. Similarly, the District Court judge in the undergraduate case concluded that the current admissions program "meets the requirements set forth by Justice Powell in Bakke and is therefore constitutional."

Revised February 21, 2003

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