Approximately 75 students, faculty and community members attended an open discussion sponsored by the College Diversity Round Table regarding last June’s Supreme Court decision on the two University of Michigan court cases involving race-influenced admissions policies.

Prior to the open discussion three panelists, junior Richard Tipton, Warner School Professor Tyll van Gell and Director of Admissions Gregory MacDonald presented the general facts and history of the cases, immediate effects on general admissions practices and briefly summarized the effects on UR admissions policies.

The two university of Michigan lawsuits in 1997 involved plaintiffs Jennifer Gratz and Patrick Hamacher who claimed race discrimination against the University of Michigan undergraduate admissions and plaintiff Barbara Grutter who similarly argued against the unlawful preference to minorities in University of Michigan Law School.

On June 23 of last year the Supreme Court affirmed that the pursuit of a diverse student body represents a compelling interest for institutions of higher education.

According to Tipton, who reported on the Constitutionality of Race-Conscious Admissions Programs, the University of Michigan Court case Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) decision affirmed the question of whether diversity on campuses is a compelling

“Most highly competitive colleges do account for race as a factor in admission policies, and this is often to achieve diversity, not to discriminate,” he explained. “The decision in June outlined such specifics as prohibiting the use of a quota system, which is too mechanical, and an emphasis on individual consideration of each specific applicant. Race should be a factor in admissions, not a determinate.”

Tyll van Geel who holds the title of Earl B. Taylor Professor and Chair of Educational Leadership Program at the Warner School emphasized that much of the misinterpretation of race-influenced admissions policies is that the objective is intellectual and cultural diversity and not social justice.

Director of Admissions Gregory MacDonald, new this year to UR from California, where the first major race-influenced admissions policy lawsuit originated, emphasized that the June decision was a victory for universities, specifically for admissions departments.

“As a whole, diversity is shared by many organizations, such as the military and major corporations and it was a major affirmation that our values are correct and sincere. We have been validated,” he said.

“At Rochester we take a holistic approach at the admissions process where no one thing is the determining factor, but rather try to get a understanding of where the individual student is coming from. We are even trying to get more aggressive with face to face interviews so to further recognize a student’s perspective.”

Although Grutter v. Bollinger was made in reference to the University of Michigan, a public institution, UR, as a private university, is still required to comply with any changes in public policy due to our dependence on federal funding.

One of the audience participants, Paul Patrick, a student at the medical school, questioned why there was a lack of deeper investigation into the need for race-influenced admission policies.

“No one is asking why are our scores lower. We need to take into consideration where students are coming from, such as the inner city students who are not provided with the same advantages,” he said. “Also, why did [Grutter] not choose to attack athletes who received the same amount of additional points as did the minority students. There are other factors that are not being taken into consideration with the Michigan case.”

In response to Patrick, Geel explained that Grutter chose to argue race discrimination because, despite the many other factors the Constitution specifically refers to race equality, not athlete nor socio-economic circumstances.

“Seventy-five percent of African Americans attend schools with a majority of minority students and they do not have the resources. It is not that there are not any qualified minority students, it is simply that there are not enough of them,” Tipton insisted. “A main issue is how to avoid the quota system, and how to define”‘Permissible Goal.’ Is it not a quota system if you accept twelve percent of minorities every year? Or what about ten to twelve? How specific can we get? There are several questions which will be relevant and hopefully answered in the next few years.”

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