While lawyers and University administrators scramble for ways to preserve diversity on campus after the passage of Proposal 2, a computer science professor from Auburn University thinks he may have found the solution.
In 2003, Juan Gilbert saw affirmative action debates brewing in the U.S. Supreme Court and in California. He began work on software now called Applications Quest. Gilbert said his program allows universities to admit diverse groups of students without relying on racial quotas or preferences.
Gilbert presented this software to a group of about 20 people on North Campus yesterday.
The software divides applicants into groups based on shared attributes. Applications that are entirely identical would be given a “100 percent similar” rating by the program; those that only shared a few traits would get much lower similarity ratings.
Students with high similarity rankings are grouped together. In this way, the program divides the applicant pool into several groups of students who, as evaluated by the program, resemble each other.
The system only gives recommendations and doesn’t make admission decisions. Staff is still responsible for choosing applicants from within each group.
By picking applicants from different groups, admissions officers can admit a diverse group of students.
This system is fairer than human-based holistic evaluations, Gilbert said, because people have inherent biases that his software does not.
“It is impossible to be a human being and fairly evaluate something holistically,” he said.
The software has a specific set of rules for determining similarities and differences, so it produces consistent, reproducible results that are made independently of the admissions committee.
This would allow the University to consider diversity when admitting students. Because admissions staffers wouldn’t need to consider race or ethnicity in admissions decisions, Gilbert said use of his software would be legal under Proposal 2, which banned the use of affirmative action by public institutions in Michigan.
Gilbert said the software looks at all aspects of an applicant compared to other applicants and so doesn’t give specific preferences based on race or gender. It looks at the differences between students based on their application as a whole.
“It actually solves the problem of admissions,” Gilbert said.
Chris Lucier, the University’s associate director of undergraduate admissions, who often comments on admissions procedures, could not be reached for comment.
Gilbert is marketing the software to universities for use in their admissions process. Having already visited schools including UCLA, Indiana University and Cornell University, Gilbert wrote to University President Mary Sue Coleman about Applications Quest.
The University then invited Gilbert to give a presentation on campus.
Gilbert’s original inspiration for Applications Quest came during the University’s Supreme Court case on affirmative action and from the passing of California’s Proposal 209.
“Doing this presentation at the University of Michigan is very important to me,” he said, “Because it all started here.”
– Elise Woznicki contributed to this report.