Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Colleges face new confusion with court's guidelines

By Ronald A. Crutcher
Guest columnist

The U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in the University of Michigan cases have provided additional - if somewhat confusing - guidelines on affirmative action admission policies for colleges and universities. At this point, one thing seems certain - the issue isn't going away.


UM student Ebonie Byndon smiles outside the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Cincinnati Monday.
(AP photo)
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Full text of opinions (links courtesy USA Today and Findlaw.com)
Law school ruling
Undergraduate case
For example, a 4.0 grade point student who happens to be black told me how some white students assume - until observing his exemplary achievement in class - that he's an "affirmative action admit." He wasn't complaining. It was just a statement of fact.

Is the assumption unfair to this brilliant young man? Absolutely. Will it have any lasting impact on him? I hope not. But what will affect all our graduates is the opportunity to work, study and play with those who are unlike them, whether that diversity be the result of racial, religious, geographic or socioeconomic differences.

In 1969, I was one of only a handful of African-American students to graduate from Miami University. Some three decades later, I returned to become provost. Our commitment to diversity has made Miami a better place for all students - not just students of color.

I find the most convincing argument is a bottom-line explanation. Employers want and need graduates who can function effectively in the 21st century global economy.

That's probably why 60 major U.S. corporations, including General Electric, Procter & Gamble and Coca Cola, filed briefs supporting the Michigan's policies, as did 28 retired, high-ranking military officers.

Most universities will not be affected by this new ruling because they don't have selective admission policies. Miami, however, does. This year, we had 13,900 applications for 3,450 slots. How does one choose? There is no one method. Michigan evaluated its undergraduate applicants via a point system, which critics called a quota. The Supreme Court has invalidated Michigan's approach, but what impact will that have on other plans?

At Miami, we think the fairest way to allocate a limited number of places among many strong applicants is to examine the context for each student's achievements. Each application is reviewed by at least two readers who look at 18 factors. Grades and test scores are considered, but so are letters of recommendation and whether a student has overcome adversity. Is she the first in her family to go to college? Is there a record of exceptional leadership or athletic ability?

Race is considered, but it is considered in context. A high-school senior who is African-American and whose mother is a physician and whose father is an engineer and who has been a mediocre student at a top high school is not likely to get any special consideration. But the same ACT score and grade point average from an African-American student who attended a high school that sends only 25 percent of its graduates on to college will get a second look by us.

Miami has always admitted students whose ACT or SAT scores may be below our average, but who have special talents or who show real initiative, but who don't test well. These students - the majority of whom are white - must participate in a program that provides special academic support.

The results of our careful admission policies and mentoring programs speak for themselves.

Miami has the seventh-highest graduation rate in the nation for major public universities. More than 88 percent of our multicultural students return for their sophomore year. The national average is 63 percent (73 percent for selective institutions). And our graduation rate for African Americans is higher than at any other of the 13 public universities in Ohio.

As we carefully evaluate the court's decisions, my hope is that Miami's highly successful admission policies will not be affected.


Ronald A. Crutcher, a 1965 graduate of Cincinnati's Woodward High School, is provost, chief academic officer and professor of music at Miami University

For the good of diversity
Colleges face new confusion with court's guidelines
Local voices: Affirmative action ruling
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