In the past decade, a number of public universities have been ordered to change their admissions policies to be completely race-blind, often resulting in drastic declines in minority enrollment.

“The classroom became a whole lot whiter,” said Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Texas, which was forced to abandon affirmative action admissions policies after losing a lawsuit in 1997.

“The minorities tended to blame us even though we had fought this about as hard as we could,” Laycock said. “Part of our problem has been to assure minority students who can come to Texas that they are still welcome.”

As the University of Michigan prepares to defend its use of race as one factor in admissions before the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals next Tuesday, schools in other states are beginning to see the results of their alternative efforts to attract minorities.

Many schools are reporting increases in the number of minorities who enroll, but most are still below the levels they achieved under affirmative action.

“The policy we have now is the one that best promotes the University”s interests in excellence and diversity,” said Jeffrey Lehman, dean of the University of Michigan Law School, which along with the College of Literature, Science and the Arts is a defendant in the cases. “I fully expect that we are going to prevail.”

None of the alternative policies have proven as effective as affirmative action in achieving those goals, he added. “If they were, we would have adopted them a long time ago.”

The University has been very careful to follow the guidelines established by the 1978 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case, which allowed the use of race as one factor in higher education admissions was acceptable, Lehman said.

Lawsuits challenging the interpretation of the Bakke decision in Texas and Washington resulted in split decisions at the appeals court level.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the University of Washington”s interpretation of Bakke, but a voter initiative blocked the use of race as a factor in admissions. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the Hopwood case in 1997 that the use of race as a factor in admissions is unconstitutional, and the University of Texas system was required to alter its admissions policies. The decision stood after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

The effect of the Hopwood ruling varied across University of Texas undergraduate and professional schools. Minority enrollment throughout the system plummeted after the Hopwood ruling.

Texas” Law School enrolled four black students into a first-year class of hundreds the year after the Hopwood case was decided. Enrollment for Hispanic students also dropped drastically that year.

Laycock said the overwhelmingly white classrooms may have made it difficult for minority students to express themselves in class, especially in regard to any racial issues, because “they appear to be speaking for an entire race.”

Laycock said the university is recovering “by virtue of intense recruiting efforts”: individual phone calls, alumni efforts, private scholarships and bringing students to the campus.

Undergraduate minority enrollment is comparable to pre-Hopwood levels, Laycock said. The University of Texas system employs a “top 10 percent” plan, which makes the highest 10 percent of every graduating class in the state eligible to enroll if they also fulfill other guidelines.

“The top 10 percent plan by itself didn”t do much. It had to be backed up by recruiting,” Laycock said.

But the professional schools in the University of Texas system are not able to use a similar system. “It works because high schools continue to be so segregated,” Laycock said.

The University of Washington has also turned to a process that emphasizes recruitment.

“We have a direct charge from our board of regents to increase applications from underrepresented minority groups by 5 percent this year,” said Leo Pangelinan, Washington”s coordinator for student outreach ambassadors and community relations.

Pangelinan and others were hired by the university to head efforts to increase diversity.

One recruitment effort that Pangelinan oversees is a group of 16 students who work part time to visit underrepresented minority middle- and high-school students in the state to encourage them to apply to the university.

“I think it really got the students active in wanting to make a change,” Pangelinan said. “It was a time of activism.”

The University of California system”s board of regents symbolically rescinded a 1995 ban on affirmative action. Race still cannot be used as a factor in admissions in California because of Proposition 209, a voter initiative similar to the one that banned affirmative action in Washington.

The effect of California”s ban on affirmative action has differed from Texas and Washington but has not been disastrous, Trow said.

“Since the end of racial preferences, the numbers of minority students in the University of California has risen, though the proportions have somewhat declined in a couple of the campuses, notably Berkeley,” Trow said. “We are a system of nine campuses, and what happened was that most of the minority students who could not be admitted to Berkeley with the ending of preference were enrolled in other UC campuses which were not up against their enrollment caps.”

UC”s law and medical schools experienced marked declines, but other graduate schools were not as affected, Trow said.

“On balance, the ending of preferences in the UC has been an enormous success, though you might not know this from the press,” he added.

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