Group Suing University Of Michigan Over Diversity

by Ethan Bronner

The University of Michigan, which has doubled its minority enrollment over the last decade through a strenuous diversification effort, is the object of a Federal lawsuit to be filed today asserting that its admissions policies are unconstitutional because they discriminate against whites.

The suit, in Federal District Court in Detroit, is by the Center for Individual Rights, the public interest law firm that won the Hopwood case in Texas last year, ending affirmative action based on racial preferences in admissions at the University of Texas. It names as defendants the University of Michigan, its president, Lee C. Bollinger, and his predecessor, James Duderstadt, who instituted the plan to diversify, calling it the Michigan Mandate.

The case is part of a growing nationwide assault on affirmative action by those who contend that preferential admissions policies help unqualified nonwhites while discriminating against qualified whites.

"The racial preference policies at Michigan are more explicit and widespread than they were at Texas," said Terence J. Pell, senior counsel at the Center for Individual Rights, in Washington. "They have an admissions grid with very different results whether you are black or white, effectively a dual admissions policy. This is a pretty extreme example but it is something which is going on at a lot of other schools."

Confidential admissions policy guidelines, publicized by a University of Michigan professor who had obtained them under the Freedom of Information Act, show a series of grids in which grades and standardized test scores are applied differently to whites and nonwhites.

For example, a white student with a grade-point average of 3.8 out of a possible 4.0 and combined Scholastic Assessment Test scores of 1,000 out of a possible 1,600 or an ACT test score of 21 out of 36 would be rejected, under the guidelines, whereas a black or Hispanic applicant with those same results would be admitted.

The professor who obtained the documents, Carl Cohen of the philosophy department, said in a telephone interview that "the evidence is overwhelming and the conclusion indisputable" that "preference by race is given systematically at the University of Michigan to applicants for admission."

University officials vehemently deny this, saying that the grids serve only as one set of guidelines among many and are not rigid admissions barriers.

"There is no question that we are committed to diversifying our campus to reflect the diversity of our society and enrich the educational experience for all here," said Lisa Baker, associate vice president for University relations. "We have therefore recruited more students and faculty of color. But there are a number of factors that go into admissions decisions. Race is only one."

The use of diversity as a justification for affirmative action dates from a longstanding understanding of the 1978 Bakke case, in which the United States Supreme Court said that universities could not set aside places for minorities but could use race and ethnicity as factors in admissions. But the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned the Texas admission policy in the Hopwood case, said that diversity was an insufficient basis for preferential admissions.

There had been talk of a lawsuit against the University of Michigan for several months, since a group of Republican state legislators urged Michigan residents who felt they had suffered discrimination to become plaintiffs.

Two who responded to the call were Jennifer Gratz and Patrick Hamacher, white applicants with relatively strong credentials who were denied admission in 1995 and in 1996, respectively, to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

Ms. Gratz, 20, who attended Southgate Anderson High School in Southgate, Michigan, graduated with a grade-point average of 3.765 and an ACT score of 25. According to the admissions grid, those numbers would put a white applicant on the waiting list and admit a black applicant.

Ms. Gratz, who was 13th in her class of 298 students, a cheerleader, homecoming queen and mathematics tutor, was placed on the waiting list before being rejected. She is now a junior and math major at the University of Michigan at Dearborn, where she has made the dean's list several times.

"I knew of people accepted to Ann Arbor who were less qualified, and my first reaction when I was rejected was, 'Let's sue,'" she said in a telephone interview yesterday. "My parents said we probably could but we didn't have the resources."

Several months ago, she read about the Center for Individual Rights and the search for plaintiffs and decided to step forward. She said she is no longer seeking admission, only to get the policy changed.

The University of Michigan is one of a very few highly selective public universities, making it ripe for this kind of lawsuit. Freedom of Information laws apply to public institutions, so the university's admission guidelines were obtainable by Professor Cohen or anyone interested.

Moreover, the huge number of applications received by Michigan each year, 20,000, means that its admissions officers are more likely than others to draw on numerical cutoffs to help them wade through the pile. About 13,000 people are offered admission, with places for about 5,300 of them in the freshman class.

The Michigan Mandate has brought minority enrollment from 12.7 percent in 1986 to just over 25 percent this year.

(Note: The table below was part of Bronner's article.  I wasn't able to get the cells to be all the same size and still have the "split" cells, but you should be able to get the general idea.  Also, you'll need at least Netscape 3 to see the cells properly.)

Assembling a Freshman Class
The University of Michigan uses a combination of grades and test scores as guidelines for screening high school graduates for admission, with lower standards applied to "underrepresented minority or other disadvantaged" students than to "majority" students.  Last year two sets of criteria were put in a grid that included codes directing some students to remedial programs.  For clarity, each set is on its own grid; program codes are omitted.
Key   Admit   Postpone decision
    Admit to remedial program   Reject
Split boxes mean either decision may be made.
Majority Applicants
 

Grade-point average
(A =  4.0, B = 3.0)

Test Score
(SAT;ACT)
Up to 2.3 2.4, 2.5 2.6, 2.7 2.8, 2.9 3.0, 3.1 3.2, 3.3 3.4, 3.5 3.6, 3.7 3.8, 3.9 4.0
and
up
Up to 840; up to 17                                
850-920; 18-19                                
930-1,000; 20-21                                
1,100-1,080; 22-23                                
1,090-1,190; 24-26                                
1,200-1,270; 27-28                                
1,280-1,350; 29-30                                
1,360-1,490; 31-33                                
1,500-1,600; 34-36                                
Minority Applicants
 

Grade-point average
(A =  4.0, B = 3.0)

Test Score
(SAT;ACT)
Up to 2.3 2.4, 2.5 2.6, 2.7 2.8, 2.9 3.0, 3.1 3.2, 3.3 3.4, 3.5 3.6, 3.7 3.8, 3.9 4.0
and
up
Up to 840; up to 17                                
850-920; 18-19                                
930-1,000; 20-21                                
1,100-1,080; 22-23                                
1,090-1,190; 24-26                                
1,200-1,270; 27-28                                
1,280-1,350; 29-30                                
1,360-1,490; 31-33                                
1,500-1,600; 34-36                                
Source: University of Michigan LSA Freshman Guidelines

Bronner, Ethan. 1997. "Group Suing University Of Michigan Over Diversity." New York Times, October 14, 1997:A14.