Former University President James Duderstadt said he is not fooled by the fact that the decline in campus diversity during the past six years has been overshadowed by lawsuits regarding the use of race in admissions.
The Center for Individual Rights, a Washington-based law firm, filed the lawsuits in the fall of 1997. Oral arguments for the cases are expected to be heard in front of the U.S. Supreme Court April 1.
Officially, the University’s minority enrollment increased from 20 percent during the 1994-1995 academic year to 26 percent during the 2001-2002 academic year, but the numbers of blacks which Duderstadt said are “seriously underrepresented,” fell about 10 percent during the same period. In the Business School, the number of blacks dropped from 200 students in 1995-1996 to under 100 last year.
Duderstadt attributes the minority regressions to several possible reasons, including actions taken by his successor Lee Bollinger, who served as University President from 1997 to 2001. Duderstadt said Bollinger neglected many facets of the Michigan Mandate, a program established by Duderstadt in 1988 to improve diversity and the racial climate on campus.
“The Michigan Mandate focused on outreach into various population centers, high schools, middle schools, providing financial support, academic support (and) changing the campus culture to embrace diversity as necessary for excellence,” Duderstadt said. “President Bollinger chose to go in somewhat a different direction, so many of those programs were dismantled.”
Duderstadt also said the national attention of the lawsuits may have turned away many high school students from applying.
But Senior Vice Provost Lester Monts said many of the programs created by the Michigan Mandate still exist and helped to create new initiatives to improve minority outreach.
“We need to do more work on this arena and we need to expand those programs,” Monts said, noting numerous programs with high school students and minorities, such as the Minority Engineering Program office.
John Matlock, associate vice provost for the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives, said he was confused as to what programs Duderstadt meant, but added that many of the programs changed over time with new needs and resources.
“I suspect that there have been programs that have ended, but there have been a number of new ones too,” Matlock said. “What was appropriate 10 years ago may require something different now. … People do revamp programs.”
Duderstadt said he would like to see the University initiate a more subjective process for admissions applications. He added that race might not be as necessary a factor if the University took on a more subjective process, looking at applications, essays and recommendations in depth rather than just assigning points. Currently, the undergraduate colleges admit students based on a 150-point selective index based on factors including high school grades, SAT and ACT scores, an essay and race.
“I think if the University were to make a substantial investment in its admissions office and stack it and really devote the time and attention to evaluate the whole application … then I think we might be able to build a very diverse class,” Duderstadt said.
Boasting one of the largest undergraduate populations in the nation and receiving 25,000 applications for the class of 2006, the University does not currently have time or resources to fully examine each application. But spokeswoman Julie Peterson said all factors of admissions, including outreach, the use of race and mentoring are necessary in order to maintain a diverse campus.
“You need outreach and recruiting, financial aid and mentoring,” Peterson said. “All these things need to be in play.”