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Battle Over Michigan’s Anti-affirmative Action Ballot Initiative Heats Up

The Center for Equal Opportunity released three studies on Tuesday that indicated a strong bias towards Black applicants at the University of Michigan. Critics immediately slammed the organization for attempting to influence next month’s referendum on affirmative action with a flawed analysis ignorant of the admissions process. 

The center received data for 1999, 2003, 2004 and 2005 from UM’s undergraduate, law and medical programs and analyzed the gaps in academic qualifications among admitted students and the number of non-Black students who were rejected even though they had better academic qualifications than the Black students.

In all four years, UM rejected more than 8,000 Hispanics, Asians and Whites who had higher SAT or ACT scores and GPAs than the average Black enrollee. In 2005, the average Black enrollee’s SAT score was 1160. Hispanics scored 1260, Whites scored 1300 and Asians scored 1400. Black enrollees also had lower LSAT and MCAT scores than the other three ethnic groups.

“It is clear that, left to their own devices, universities will not end the racial discrimination that [former U.S. Supreme Court] Justice O’Connor said she expected to end in 25 years,” says Roger Clegg, the center’s president.

But critics have been quick to point out that the studies only tell part of the story.

“Hundreds of schools have found that test scores and grades are not the only measure of who can succeed,” says Robert Schaeffer, public education director at FairTest. “Simply showing that minority applicants have lower test scores does not prove anything.”

Lani Guinier, the Bennett Boskey Professor of Law at Harvard University, agrees that LSAT scores do not predict success in law school.

“The LSAT is not a proxy for an excellent lawyer. It’s a set of false promises that you can make complex decisions using simple-minded data,” she says. “The irony here is that [the study] claims to focus on the value of the individual, and the information they’re giving to the public is not correlated on individual competence but on uniform variables that are related to class and gender.”

Linda Chavez, chairwoman of the Center for Equal Opportunity, accused the University of Michigan of giving race more consideration in admissions now “than under the system that was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2003.”

In a statement, UM spokesperson Julie Peterson said the conservative group failed to take into account other factors considered in admissions including the rigors of an applicant’s high school or undergraduate curriculum, recommendations from teachers and the student’s socioeconomic status.

“The CEO has conducted a flawed and shallow analysis that is missing crucial pieces of information considered in our admissions process,” Peterson said.

Some critics contend that the study was timed to coincide with next month’s Proposal 2 ballot initiative, which would end affirmative action in education in the state.

Dr. Lester C. Monts, UM’s senior vice provost for academic affairs, warned Michigan voters about the “bogus” analysis.

“If we allow these carpetbagger types from California and Washington, D.C., to roll into town and lead us into believing these falsehoods, then we need to reassess our values as citizens in the state of Michigan. They are insulting to our students and contribute to low morale,” he said.

Dr. Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, also says the studies are flawed and politically motivated.

“These statistics hope to influence the forthcoming ballot, and attempting to reduce college admissions at highly selective universities to one or two numbers is likely to produce highly inaccurate results,” he says.

Anti-affirmative action advocates weren’t alone in trying to get their message out to voters. On Monday, One United Michigan, the nonprofit organization set up to defeat the Michigan initiative, held a press conference featuring Bob Laird, the former admissions director at the University of California, Berkeley.

Laird say that California’s Proposition 209 measure has led to the decline of Black and Hispanic enrollment in California’s top public universities, including law and medical schools. He says Proposal 2, which is very similar to Proposition 209 and backed by many of the same organizations, could have the same effect in Michigan.

“Proposal 2, like Proposition 209 before it, will take hope away from thousands of young students,” Laird says. “Without affirmative action to train the young leaders who will return to urban schools and provide the human capital and role models needed to turn around those communities, Michigan will be limiting opportunity for many of those who need it most in your state.”


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