As the date approaches when a badly split U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether the University of Michigan's admissions policies unfairly favor minority applicants, readers of BusinessWeek Online seem to be as divided on the issue as the justices themselves. Of the 1,250-plus people who responded to out May 8 Reader Survey, some 45% said they think it's somewhat or very appropriate for universities to take into account special characteristics such as race, economic status, or athletic achievement when making admissions decisions, vs. 47% who think that doing so is somewhat or totally inappropriate.
Asked which characteristics Michigan should give special weight to, readers felt that the strongest preference should go to those who can demonstrate high personal achievement or leadership ability or to the socioeconomically disadvantaged. They felt that the least preference should go to people such as men who apply to nursing school or appliants from Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The percentage who felt that special weight should be given to underrepresented minorities and to students with exceptional athletic ability fell between those two extremes.
WRONG WAY TO GO. Some 70% of those who responded felt that Michigan's point system is either a quota system that favors minorities or could be contrued as one, vs. 21% who felt that it isn't a quota system or probably isn't.
Similarly, a majority of those who responded don't agree with Michigan's goal of creating a diverse environment that reflects the "real world" students will live in after they graduate. Some 53% said Michigan's approach probably or definitely isn't the right way to go, vs. the 35% who think it definitely or probably is the right way to go.
Readers were almost evenly divided on the question of whether universities would end up with more than a token number of underrepresented minorities if they didn't make special efforts to recruit such students: About 39% of those who responded think it's somewhat or very likely that schools would end up with plenty of minorities without making special efforts, vs. the 39% who thought that somewhat or very unlikely.
UNCOMMITTED EFFORT. Only about 40% of those who responded think it's very or somewhat appropriate for corporations to practice affirmative action, vs. the 50% who think otherwise -- meaning that readers who participated in this unscientific survey are much more opposed to affirmative action than Americans normally tend to be in scientific polls on that issue.
Some 34% of those who responded thought it very or somewhat likely that corporations would have more than a token number of underrepresented minorities without affirmative action, vs. the 40% who felt the opposite way.
About 41% of those who participated said they think the Bush Administration is somewhat or totally uncommitted to fostering the participation of underrepresented minorities in universities and companies, vs. the 23% who think the Administration is committed to such a goal.
Some 21% of those who responded are now in school, vs. 79% who aren't. And some 37% voted for President Bush in the last election, vs. the 30% each who voted for Gore or didn't vote. Here are the complete details of the survey, which as always was unscientific, since anyone who wished to could participate:
How appropriate do you think it is for universities to take into account applicants' special characteristics -- such as their race, economic status, or athletic achievements -- when making admissions decisions?
No more appropriate than not
The University of Michigan judges applicants on a 150-point scale, where 110 points relate to academic performance. It also awards points to candidates based on a variety of other characteristics. Which of the following nonacademic point awards that Michigan uses do you think make sense (choose as many as you like):
Underrepresented minorities (African American, Native American, Hispanic): 20 points
Socioeconomically disadvantaged applicants: 20 points
Graduates of predominantly minority high schools: 20 points
Varsity athletes: 20 points
Applicants (largely white) from Michigan's Upper Peninsula: 16 points
Men who apply to nursing school: Unspecified points
Leadership ability: 5 points
Personal achievement: 5 points
University Provost's discretion: 20 points
Michigan argues that such a system doesn't amount to setting quotas for various types of applicants, while critics argue that awarding points is in essence a quota system for minorities. Do you think Michigan's approach is:
Definitely a quota system that unreasonably favors minorities
Possible to construe as such a system
No more likely than not such a system
Probably not a quota system that favors minorities
Definitely not a quota system
University admissions officers say the purpose of considering factors other than academic achievement is ensure that the school has a diverse student body, one that reflects the "real world" students will live in after they graduate. Given this goal, do you think the Michigan point system:
Definitely is the right way to go
Probably is the right way to go
Is no more the right thing to do than not
Probably isn't the right way to go
Definitely isn't the right way to go
How likely do you think it is that major universities, which have four or five times as many applicants as they can admit, would have more than a token number of underrepresented minorities if they didn't make special efforts to recruit them?
No more likely than not
How appropriate do you think it is for employers to practice affirmative action or exert a special effort to attract groups who may have been discriminated against in the past, such as minorities and women, when making hiring decisions?
Neither more nor less appropriate
How likely do you think it is that corporations would have more than a token number of underrepresented minorities if they didn't practice affirmative action or exert special efforts?
No more likely than not
How committed do you think the Bush Administration is to fostering the participation of underrepresented minorities in universities and companies?
No more committed than not
Not committed at all
Are you now in school?
Where do you live?
Outside the U.S.
Who did you vote for in the 2000 Presidential election?