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Bush message leaves open affirmative action question

President George W. Bush stopped short of challenging existing affirmative action law established in the 1978 Bakke case when he issued a statement last week that was critical of U-M admissions policies. Bush's remarks were made the day before his administration filed a brief with the Supreme Court of the United States opposing the University in two upcoming lawsuits.

During his Jan. 15 speech, Bush called the University policies "fundamentally flawed," repeatedly claiming they use targets and quotas, which he said "unfairly rewards or penalizes prospective students, based solely on their race."

U-M President Mary Sue Coleman said it is clear that Bush does not fully understand the University's admissions policies.

"It is a complex process that takes many factors into account and considers the entire background of each student applicant, just as the president urged," Coleman said in response to his remarks.

"We do not have, and have never had, quotas or numerical targets in either the undergraduate or Law School admissions programs. Academic qualifications are the overwhelming consideration for admission to both programs."

Coleman took exception to the president's illustration of the point value given to prospective students. Bush made it sound as if race were more important than academic achievement by comparing the 20 points allotted for race with the 12 given for test scores.

"In our undergraduate admissions system, fully 110 points out of 150 are given for academic factors including grades, test scores and curriculum," Coleman said. "We only count 12 points for test scores, but that is because we value high school
grades to a much greater extentthey can earn up to 80 points. We consider many other factors as well. A student who is socio-economically disadvantaged also can earn 20 points, however, students cannot earn 20 points for both factors. Geographic diversity also is important. A student from Michigan's upper peninsula, for example, earns 16 points. We also consider leadership, service and life experiences, among other elements."

While Bush criticized the University's policies, he did say colleges and universities should work to promote diversity.

"I was pleased to hear President Bush say that diversity, and explicitly racial diversity, in our student bodies is very important for America's colleges and universities," Coleman said. "We agree that universities must continue to strive for improvements in enrollment of African American, Native American and Hispanic students."

Coleman disagreed with the president's assessment that other states are finding successful alternatives to race-conscious admissions practices. He said educational systems in California, Florida and Texas are guaranteeing admissions to the top students from high schools across those states using a percentage formula.

Coleman said the percent plans select students solely on the basis of high school grades, not on leadership abilities, activities or teacher recommendations, among other factors.

"They are not a panacea, and I firmly believe they would not work at all here at Michigan, and for most other highly selective universities across the country," Coleman said.

"Further, these programs have hardly been an unqualified success. In fact, I recently read an Associated Press story citing that minority enrollment at the University of Texas flagship Austin campus is still lower than it was before a court barred consideration of race in that state."

The Bush Administration's filing of a brief on Thursday was in keeping with a deadline for the Center for Individual Rights and others who oppose the University's position to make their written cases before the Supreme Court. The University dead
line is Feb. 18. Several key groups already have come forward in support of U-M. More than a week ago, 34 higher education associations wrote a letter urging Bush to side with the University. A week earlier, leaders of a dozen Hispanic organizations did the same.

"We have received an outpouring of support from the nation's educators, the business and labor communities, legal organizations, and many, many others," Coleman said. "Their voices will be raised as the cases progress, and we anticipate a number of amicus briefs will be filed on our behalf in February."

The Supreme Court agreed in December to hear both admissions lawsuits against the University, Grutter v. Bollinger et al. (Law School) and Gratz v. Bollinger et al. (undergraduate case). The high court is expected to hear the cases in late March or early April and issue its opinion in June. Coleman is confident University policies will be upheld.

"We look forward to our opportunity to be heard by the Supreme Court," she said. "We believe the court will reaffirm its decision in Bakke and find that the University of Michigan's admissions system is fair and legal under the Constitution."

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