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Court Upholds University's Racial Preferences

Tuesday, 14 May 2002 12:00 AM

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 5-4 decision, reversed a lower court's ruling that found the school's policy unconstitutional. It claimed the university's system of racial preferences did not amount to a quota.

"Race and ethnicity, along with a range of other factors, are potential 'plus' factors in a particular applicants file, but they do not insulate an under-represented minority applicant from competition or act to foreclose competition from non-minority applicants," the court wrote.

"As part of its policy of evaluating each applicant individually, the Law School's officials read each application and factor all of the accompanying information into their decision. The Law School ... attends to the numbers and distribution of under-represented minority applicants in an effort to ensure all of its students obtain the benefits of an academically diverse student body."

The ruling stemmed from a 1997 suit filed by Barbara Grutter, 48, who said she was denied admission to the law school even though less qualified minorities were accepted. A second similar suit against Michgan's undergraduate admissions policies, which was upheld by a lower court, was still pending even though arguments were heard at the same time.

The case was heard by the circuit's entire nine-judge panel.

Race is one of a number of factors the University of Michigan says it uses in admissions. The university received 24,511 applications this year but could admit only 5,300 to its fall freshman class. The law school received 5,256 applications for 350 seats.

The appellate court claimed the school had an interest in "achieving a diverse student body." As a result, the school uses "soft variables" in making admissions decisions, including comparing a students' test scores to the academic record and considering a student who "may help achieve that diversity which has the potential to enrich everyone's education," such as a 50-year-old being admitted to a class where everyone else is under 30 or "a Vietnamese boat person."

The court said the school considered race-neutral alternatives in developing its policies but those did not enroll what school officials referred to as a "critical-mass" of under-represented minority students.

"The Law School drafted its admissions policy to comply with the Supreme Court's [1978] opinion in [Regents of the University of California vs.] Bakke ...," the court wrote.

"The district court's apparent insistence that 'critical mass' correspond with a more definite percentage is ... fatally at odds with Bakke's prohibition of fixed quotas."

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 5-4 decision, reversed a lower court's ruling that found the school's policy unconstitutional. It claimed the university's system of racial preferences did not amount to a quota. Race and ethnicity, along with a range of other...
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2002-00-14
Tuesday, 14 May 2002 12:00 AM
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