Jennifer Gratz, prevailing plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court case, Gratz v. Bollinger, which struck down the University of Michigan’s points-for-race admissions system, suggested several ways to increase racial diversity without resorting to racial discrimination. The first three:
■ Eliminate legacy preferences. Giving admission boosts to applicants simply because of the money one’s family has donated is unfair and deeply unpopular. Parental status and wealth should play no role in university admissions decisions, and U-M should immediately take a bold step toward equal treatment by eliminating these preferences.
Although legacy preferences are race-neutral, they do give an advantage to applicants based on factors other than merit, extracurricular activities, and the like.
■ Give special consideration to low-income and first-generation applicants. Regardless of skin color stereotypes, every individual brings unique accomplishments, beliefs and family history to the table. U-M admission officers should give attention to qualified applicants who have overcome significant economic hurdles, succeeded while attending underperforming schools, or excelled despite especially challenging family obstacles. Admissions officers, however, must go beyond scanning check boxes to uncover these stories.
Ideally, admissions committees would assess applicants based on grades and scores only, but they look beyond these factors to include people historically excluded and who otherwise show a capacity to do the work, which grades and scores might not reflect.
■ Expand need-based scholarships. Increasing opportunity for all applicants requires an increase in scholarship funds for qualified low-income students, so those who have overcome significant hurdles to get to college can overcome the hurdle of affording it.
Low-income, first-generation, and need-based aren’t necessarily code words for the intended recipients of racial preferences. Many white Americans are low-income and first-generation college attendees and could use all the financial help they can get to pay for college.
Colleges and universities at various times might have tried one or more of these things. They tend to regress to assessing the race of the applicant, however, when the number of brown faces don’t reach whatever arbitrary threshold they’ve set. The “increase diversity” goal should not (and doesn’t have to) entail lowering standards or rejecting an applicant of the “wrong” race.