The scrutiny with which the University’s admissions policies have been examined since two lawsuits were filed against it will only increase as the U.S. Supreme Court plans to take an even closer look at the use of race as a factor in admissions.

Jennifer Gratz in 1995 and Barbara Grutter in 1997 were denied admission to the College of Literature, Sciences and the Arts and the Law School, respectively, while they claim less qualified minority applicants were accepted. They have both brought lawsuits against the University, alleging that the University’s use of race-conscious admissions policies is unconstitutional and unlawfully discriminatory.

In the brief it submitted to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, University officials said applicants to the undergraduate program are evaluated based on guidelines that “blend the consistency of a formula with the flexibility of a review that is ultimately a matter of human judgment.”

“This is not just a purely mechanical process at all, but there are points assigned,” interim LSA Dean Terrence McDonald said. “Every application is read by several people in the admissions process.”

The admissions staff is aided in the evaluation process by a selection index, which assigns applicant points based on a variety of factors deemed important by the University, both academic and otherwise.

A maximum of 110 points may be awarded based on academic achievements. No more than 40 points are awarded to applicants for other factors, which include geography, quality of the personal essay and leadership and service. The greatest amount of points in this category is given to applicants from underrepresented racial or ethnic minority groups, for which 20 out of the 40 points may be awarded. An applicant’s selection index is the total of the scores from both categories.

Although a point system is used as part of the evaluation process, McDonald said the applications are carefully scrutinized multiple times by members of the admissions staff.

“The process is not clearly based on numbers,” he said. “We take into consideration a wide array of characteristics, first and foremost academics.”

McDonald said race is one of the factors considered when aiming for diversity, but it does not outweigh concerns of applicants’ ability to succeed academically.

“Within those who meet academic standards, we want to have the most diverse student body we can,” he said.

While the Law School also takes race into consideration when evaluating potential students, it does so on a more personalized basis due to a smaller applicant pool.

“Our admissions director reads everything in an applicant’s file,” Law School Dean Jeffrey Lehman said in an interview earlier this week. “Ultimately what is involved is a very individualistic, person-by-person evaluation of each candidate.”

Applicants are evaluated based on undergraduate transcripts, LSAT results, a questionnaire about academic honors, community service, hobbies and previous employment and a personal statement, all of which he said feeds into the judgment of the admissions director.

“What it shows is that the University of Michigan does not have a one-size-fits-all approach to admissions,” Lehman said. “Our mission is to prepare lawyers – to provide leaders both in the legal profession and in the country more generally.”

“Unlike the undergraduate process, there’s no formula,” Associate Law School Dean Evan Caminker said. “It’s a small group of people working with the director of admissions.”

He said the Law School’s goal in using a race-conscious admissions process is to develop what it calls a “critical mass” of minority students, so that one student does not represent the viewpoint of his or her entire racial group. Caminker said in this type of environment tokenism can be avoided and students can learn there is diversity among minority students as there is diversity among students in general.

“Only when you have a critical mass … do you get the kind of breakdown of stereotypes that we are looking for,” Lehman said, adding that students must, above all else, be academically qualified.

“We are very careful not to admit any student of any race unless we are confident that they will succeed at the Law School and in the practice after they graduate,” he said.

With the Supreme Court set to hear oral arguments in both admissions cases, there is a possibility that the use of race in admissions may be found to be unconstitutional. This adverse decision could potentially force not only the University, but also universities nationwide, to change their admissions policies.

“There is no major university in America, outside of Texas and California, that does not include race as a factor (in creating diversity),” McDonald said. “All students benefit educationally from the experience of studying with a diverse student body.”

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