After Michigan voters approved Proposal 2 in 2006, which banned public colleges in the state from taking race into account as a factor in admissions, the University has made significant changes in the way it considers applicants.
The Law School, especially, which survived the scrutiny of U.S. Supreme Court in its affirmative action admissions process in 2003, was forced to restructure its holistic approach to the applications process so as not to include race.
Data from the Law School’s admissions department shows that most minority students have not been affected by admissions without acknowledging race. The number of enrolled Black students, however, did decrease substantially, from 25 in 2006 to 14 in 2013.
Sarah Zearfoss, the director of admissions for the Law School, said the admissions department began to more actively seek out a more diverse applicant pool as the department could not award points to an applicant’s individual diversity.
“We can use our best efforts to recruit an applicant pool and to matriculate the people who we’ve admitted, but without being able to take race into account in the decision-making process we necessarily have to admit fewer minorities than we did when we could employ affirmative action,” Zearfross said. “We aggressively recruit and have a number of recruiting efforts that we make to try and do our best but … we have fewer African-Americans in the class post-Prop 2.”
She added that after the passage of Proposal 2, the department decided they still wanted to achieve a racially diverse student body — though it would not longer be a part of the application review.
“There’s no good substitute for that as a factor in the decision-making,” Zearfross said. “We can’t and we still want to have a diverse student body so we do a lot to, as we say, create a diverse applicant pool.”
The law school application process follows a self-proclaimed holistic approach, in which the school considers all aspects of the applicant, excluding race. Zearfoss said that she never knows the race of an applicant she is reviewing.
Zearfross said that if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to overturn the ban on affirmative action pending in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, which it will hear next week, the department would have to reevaluate what its admissions process would be.
“If they struck down Prop 2, then we would be in the same place as every other private school in the nation, which does take race into account — at least, the elite schools do, and they have to comply with the Fisher decision from last term,” Zearfross said. “We haven’t really had to think about Fisher because Prop 2 trumps Fisher for us. If Prop 2 were to be struck down we would have to start all over from scratch.”