As University lawyers get closer to defending race-conscious admissions policies in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, debate arises over whether there are other options available besides the 20 points the University currently gives to underrepresented minorities.
One question raised refers to the validity of race-neutral admissions policies and whether socioeconomic factors can ever fully replace using race.
Center for Individual Rights spokesman Curt Levey said the University does not take a serious enough look at socioeconomic disadvantages. CIR is the plaintiff in both Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, both scheduled to be heard in the court April 1.
“The evidence from what I’ve seen is that the 20 points from a socioeconomic disadvantage is a sham,” Levey said, adding that the University should directly ask students whether they come from a disadvantaged background. “Very few people can really justify why the son of a white coal miner gets zero points and the son of a black physician gets 20 points,” Levy said, referring to the ambiguity surrounding socioeconomic disadvantages.
But University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said taking race into consideration does more than just help people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“One of the benefits of having significant numbers of minority students on our campus is to break down stereotypes,” Peterson said. “One of the powerful aspects of learning in a diverse environment is to be able to see differences within groups, and similarities across racial boundaries.”
CIR, President Bush and other opponents of the University’s policies defend the percent plans used in Texas, California and Florida. They say the programs provide advantages to people from disadvantaged backgrounds by offering a certain percentage from every high school into a state college. But University officials assert that such a plan will not work as well in Michigan, which is not as racially segregated as other states. For example, the Upper Peninsula is an area with few minorities and little affluence.
“Race (or) ethnicity and socioeconomic disadvantage are two completely different things,” Peterson said. “The majority of applicants who come from poor families are white. If we considered only socioeconomic disadvantage, we would not succeed in enrolling a racially diverse student body.”
“It’s just going to be more effective in states that have segregated communities,” University of Virginia law Prof. Kim Forde-Mazrui said. “States that have fewer minorities or in which minorities are more dispersed … are going to have a harder time.”
Levey rejected that argument, saying “there are few major cities in the (United States) as segregated as Detroit.”
But Mazrui added that the percent plans have not been as successful in Texas and California as Bush claims. Mazrui said in many cases, state universities admit students who are not qualified to attend the school, but the schools admit them because of their class rank.
But Levey noted there are other factors involved in race-neutral admissions. He said universities could ask students to write an essay about coming from a disadvantaged family. They could also eliminate legacy points. The University offers four points to an applicant if one of their parents is an alumnus and one point for other close relatives.
“They have made no effort to use race-neutral preferences to achieve diversity. They just categorically write it off,” Levy said.
He added that he believes the University already lowered its standards when they began offering 20 points for race.