The University Record, January 28, 1998

Executive officers criticize CEO report

By Jane R. Elgass

"The University of Michigan is devoutly committed to diversity and integration" and a report that suggests we should tolerate a resegregation of higher education is "extraordinarily insulting and offensive," says Provost Nancy Cantor.

The report, "Racial Preferences in Michigan Higher Education," was released Jan. 26 by the Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO) of Washington, D.C. It studied admissions at eight Michigan public universities and concluded that if the state's public higher education institutions were to admit undergraduate students without regard to race, Black enrollment would drop significantly only at the U-M. The report chastises the U-M and the other institutions that take race into account, and calls the U-M "the greatest offender when it comes to judging college applicants by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character or their educational achievement."

The report also states that "colorblind equal opportunity is achievable without causing undue harm to Blacks and Hispanics."

President Lee C. Bollinger joined Cantor in decrying the report, saying it "offends the University and its students."

"It is wrong to suggest that we ignore the content of our students' character and their educational achievement. As a selective institution, we use a range of factors to compose a highly qualified student body.

"The CEO study suggests that we should tolerate segregated higher education. We cannot, and this suggestion is offensive and ignores the impact of diversity on the quality of higher education in the United States. There is no such thing as a great, segregated public university," Bollinger stated.

In a media briefing Jan. 26, Cantor called the report "created reality," because it bases its findings on only three factors among many that are used in making admissions decisions--GPAs and SAT and ACT scores. "This is not the reality of our admissions process nor that of our peers," the provost said. "We don't do admissions by rank order test scores or GPAs."

Cantor emphasized that applicants are judged on an individual basis, and that the University's "preference for integration" and other factors "is taken seriously" in the decision-making process.

The report, which Cantor said "narrowly misrepresents a complicated admissions process," also "shows a shocking resolve to allow the only highly selective school in the state to become a segregated institution. Our students deserve to be here. They contribute greatly to the environment and graduate in large numbers," she added.

The CEO report also looks at graduation rates, stating: "If students gain admission to college for any reason other than their academic preparation, it is likely that they will face more hurdles in school compared to their peers who have been admitted under a higher standard. They may, in fact, fail to earn their degrees. So it makes sense that racial preferences will have a negative effect on the graduation rates of students who are said to benefit from them."

Cantor said this section of the report "goes to the heart of the misrepresentation." If using race as an admissions consideration by implication means that unqualified students are being admitted, "then the institution with the largest preference, according to their study, should have the lowest graduation rate. It is exactly the opposite," Cantor noted.

According to the CEO report, the U-M has the highest six-year graduation rates for African American (66 percent), Hispanic (76 percent), Asian (86 percent) and white (87 percent) students of the eight universities covered.

"We take great comfort in the graduation analysis. We would like to have all our students graduate. We are pleased to see the U-M at higher rates than the other schools analyzed in the sample."

Lester P. Monts, associate provost for academic and multicultural affairs, characterized the CEO report as "a vicious attack on the integrity of Black and Hispanic students."

"Reports such as this are damaging to the morale and well-being of all our students. It is another insulting and insidious act that says to our students, 'You don't belong here' and to our prospective students, 'We don't want you here.'

"So I want to say to our African American and Hispanic/Latino students--those currently enrolled and those who seek admission--we are very proud of you; we celebrate your accomplishments, we value your cultural and intellectual contributions to the University and we will continue to support you."

The technical aspects of the report were called into question by Paul Courant, associate provost-academic and budgetary affairs, who noted that the study does not take into account the many other factors, such as geography, legacy, disadvantages and strength of high school program, that are used in making admissions decisions.

Courant also questioned the report's statement that the odds of a Black applicant with the same qualifications as a white applicant being offered admission are nearly 174 to one. "This is just as true as my saying that every time I've faced Nolan Ryan in a major league game I've hit a home run. There is no circumstance in our admissions process where that choice is made. If there are two equally qualified students, they both get in."

The other schools covered in the CEO report are Central Michigan, Ferris State, Michigan State, Michigan Technological, Northern Michigan and Saginaw Valley State universities and U-M-Dearborn.

Founded in 1995, the Center for Equal Opportunity is a private, non-profit organization that describes itself as "the only think tank devoted exclusively to issues of race and public policy." It is headed by Linda Chavez, former director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.