The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week on the use of race as a factor in university admissions compels the University to revise the point-based admissions policy used by the College of Literature, Science and Arts. The college’s admissions policies are in need of a significant overhaul, and the model that the Law School uses can guide any new system. In order to create trust among the University community in a new policy, it would be wise for University President Mary Sue Coleman to assign the responsibility of developing a new system to a representative committee that includes administrators, faculty, admissions officers, members of the University’s legal team, alumni and students.

One important aspect of such a committee’s task will be to examine the Law School’s system and extract from it those elements that enable a constitutionally sound pursuit of diversity. While the LSA point system relied heavily on numerical comparisons, the Law School makes essays and interviews a prominent part of its admissions process. The Law School admissions staff is able to consider factors such as race and socioeconomic status in the context of an applicant’s personal struggles and achievements.

As the University’s legal team argued to the Supreme Court, the University is one of the nation’s most elite schools of higher learning. As such, it is past time for LSA to adopt a system befitting such an elite school – a system that makes a holistic assessment of each applicant. Other schools of LSA’s ilk use interviews as an important part of the admissions process and give serious consideration to application essays. In order for the admissions officers to learn more about each applicant, it is important for the college to begin interviewing its applicants. With the world’s largest living alumni base, this should not be an overwhelming task. In addition, the LSA application would be improved by requiring more essays and if the admissions officers paid more attention to these essays. Essays are one of the rare opportunities for the applicants to speak to admissions officials and for the officials to get to know the applicants. Until now, LSA’s reliance on application essays has paled in comparison with other colleges at other competitive universities. LSA and other colleges using point systems, such as the College of Engineering, will need to hire many more admissions officers and tap their alumni bases to provide individual attention to the many thousands of people who apply to the University annually.

Besides the lack of weight that LSA has traditionally put on essays and the lack of an interview process altogether, other serious flaws have existed in the school’s admissions policies. The University would make a bold statement by eliminating any “legacy” preference given to the relatives of alumni when applying for admissions. Acceptance should be based upon each individual’s merit, not upon his family name. The University should avoid changing its rolling acceptance policies to a system based on early decision, as early decision favors wealthier applicants at the expense of those less fortunate and forces students to make premature decisions. It is also important to continue to consider socioeconomic, regional factors and race as part of the holistic evaluation of each candidate.

While the Supreme Court handed the University a partial defeat by ruling its undergraduate admissions policies unconstitutional, the decision also provides the University with an opportunity to improve its undergraduate admissions policies. The proposed committee can rework the process in order to make it more personalized, more probing, more progressive and more in line with the policies comparable schools use.

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