In the heated debate between supporters and opponents of Michigan’s ban on race- and gender-based affirmative action there are few areas of agreement. Except for maybe one area. Both groups want to know what effect the ban has had in the past year. Many people – not just students – are particularly interested in the effect it has had on the one of the ban’s key targets: the University’s admissions. However, no information has been made available regarding the incoming freshman class of 2012. Although the University might be in an uncomfortable position here, there is no excuse for delaying the release of this vital data.
Since the state constitutional amendment went into effect last year, there has been mounting concern from both sides of the debate about the University. Opponents of affirmative action are concerned that the University isn’t following the law, or is sidestepping it illegally. Supporters of affirmative action fear that losing affirmative action as a tool to promote diversity would cause precipitous declines in minority enrollment.
To address these issues, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions released statistics to the media in four cycles over the course of the last school year. The first of the four cycles showed a significant decrease in the percentage of underrepresented minorities admitted. For the Law School, statistics released last June were even more troubling; the percentage of underrepresented minority applicants admitted plummeted from 39.6 percent to a mere 5.4 percent. Although it’s easy to draw conclusions from these figures, University officials repeatedly warned against reading too much into them. After all, they maintained, the admissions process for that year had been split by the state amendment, and it was way too early to reach any verdicts about the consequences.
So now, more than a year after the state ban on race- and gender-based affirmative action went into effect, how does the University explain the conspicuous lack of information for the newly admitted freshman class? For its part, the University hasn’t let the delay in admissions statistics go by with a shortage of excuses. To begin with, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions has complained about the sheer amount of work involved, noting that additional staff was hired to help out. If anything, that should be a reason why it would be possible to release the data earlier. It has also been argued that such information was only readily released after the immediate fallout last fall, and shouldn’t be expected on a regular basis. But the University has been building up this year’s admissions data as the most important yet. Why the sudden change of heart? Whichever way you look at it, something doesn’t add up.
The Early Response program, put in place just last year, further complicates the situation. Applicants that apply before November receive their admissions decisions by Dec. 21. The fact that these decisions have been made for so long makes the situation even more suspect. Such programs have been criticized in the past because they favor students from affluent, well-represented backgrounds who begin the process of applying to college early in their high school career – a consideration that has led Harvard University and other schools to cancel a similar option for their applicants.
From a University standpoint, hesitancy to release such information is understandable. If data confirms a sharp decline in minority admissions, controversy will erupt over what this holds for the future of campus diversity. If data shows less change than expected, opponents of affirmative action will cry foul. Whichever way the data goes, the University won’t be able to appease everyone. It’s only hope of even coming close, however, is if it is open and truthful at all times, not just in May or April when it plans to release the data.