Guest column: Affirmative action in higher education

As any educator can attest, admissions procedures are kept under lock and key. This secrecy in their admissions process allows each school to keep an advantage over the competition. When I applied to law school, I took notice of the fancy grids that predicted potential success rates of admittance to the schools. I also read the fine print, which said that there were no numerical absolutes or guarantees. I noticed those whose scores were much lower than others but were admitted and even people who received a near perfect score on the LSAT and had a near perfect GPA who were not accepted. This made me realize that it is not only about numbers when schools are trying to pick “qualified” people.

The plaintiffs in the University of Michigan lawsuits, Barbara Grutter at the law school and Jennifer Gratz at the undergraduate College of Literature, Science and the Arts, probably presented impressive standardized test scores and grade point averages. They argue that based on these two numbers, they should have gotten in and anyone below those numbers should have been rejected. Indeed, a look at the figures for the entering classes of both institutions shows that there were several “qualified” students of all races that were admitted with scores slightly below theirs. Yet, instead of accepting the fact that the schools define “qualified” more broadly than through numerical measures, Grutter and Gratz, both white applicants, chose to blame their rejections on the admissions of minority students.

Neither Gratz nor Grutter questioned the reasoning for the personal essays that they wrote, the resumes they submitted or the references they furnished. If the University of Michigan only cared about numbers, then why would they ask for all of these other materials?

When I took statistics in college, the first thing my professor told me was that statistics could be manipulated to tell you whatever you want to hear. We were told to be wary of a reliance on numbers. This is evident in these cases where statisticians from both camps can argue over the same numbers. In the end, we have to rely on a more rounded approach in order to ensure that schools are really getting the most qualified students.

The University of Michigan has stressed all along that diversity is an important component to the learning process. It promotes discussion and offers different ideas and points of view into the debate. In addition, it prepares young men and women as they enter into an ever-growing multicultural society and a world that is shrinking due to technological advances. So, as the University of Michigan continues its efforts to attract a diverse student body at the law school and the undergraduate programs, maybe there is something to be said about the importance of looking beyond the numbers and focusing instead on the individual as a whole.

-The writer, a third year GW Law student, is an intern at Americans for a Fair Chance, a consortium of six leading civil rights organizations.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.