Is This a Quota System?

Our readers come up split on the question of whether the University of Michigan's controversial admissions policy is appropriate or not

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?

Option Total %  
Very appropriate 273 22.27 %
Somewhat appropriate 277 22.59 %
No more appropriate than not 88 7.18 %
Somewhat inappropriate 179 14.6 %
Totally inappropriate 399 32.54 %
Not sure 10 0.82 %

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):

Option Total %  
Underrepresented minorities (African American, Native American, Hispanic): 20 points 388 9.11 %
Socioeconomically disadvantaged applicants: 20 points 687 16.13 %
Graduates of predominantly minority high schools: 20 points 265 6.22 %
Varsity athletes: 20 points 327 7.68 %
Applicants (largely white) from Michigan's Upper Peninsula: 16 points 216 5.07 %
Men who apply to nursing school: Unspecified points 209 4.91 %
Leadership ability: 5 points 935 21.95 %
Personal achievement: 5 points 1027 24.11 %
University Provost's discretion: 20 points 205 4.81 %

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:

Option Total %  
Definitely a quota system that unreasonably favors minorities 537 43.69 %
Possible to construe as such a system 325 26.44 %
No more likely than not such a system 83 6.75 %
Probably not a quota system that favors minorities 87 7.08 %
Definitely not a quota system 173 14.08 %
Not sure 24 1.95 %

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:

Option Total %  
Definitely is the right way to go 223 18.1 %
Probably is the right way to go 211 17.13 %
Is no more the right thing to do than not 130 10.55 %
Probably isn't the right way to go 183 14.85 %
Definitely isn't the right way to go 476 38.64 %
Not sure 9 0.73 %

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?

Option Total %  
Very likely 255 20.8 %
Somewhat likely 220 17.94 %
No more likely than not 221 18.03 %
Somewhat unlikely 184 15.01 %
Very unlikely 300 24.47 %
Not sure 46 3.75 %

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?

Option Total %  
Very appropriate 262 21.42 %
Somewhat appropriate 229 18.72 %
Neither more nor less appropriate 111 9.08 %
Somewhat inappropriate 160 13.08 %
Totally inappropriate 454 37.12 %
Not sure 7 0.57 %

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?

Option Total %  
Very likely 208 17.11 %
Somewhat likely 207 17.02 %
No more likely than not 278 22.86 %
Somewhat unlikely 212 17.43 %
Very unlikely 276 22.7 %
Not sure 35 2.88 %

How committed do you think the Bush Administration is to fostering the participation of underrepresented minorities in universities and companies?

Option Total %  
Very committed 112 9.19 %
Somewhat committed 170 13.95 %
No more committed than not 267 21.9 %
Somewhat uncommitted 142 11.65 %
Not committed at all 365 29.94 %
Not sure 163 13.37 %

Are you now in school?

Option Total %  
Yes 255 20.92 %
No 964 79.08 %

Where do you live?

Option Total %  
Northeast 339 27.83 %
Midwest 230 18.88 %
South 186 15.27 %
Southwest 86 7.06 %
West 206 16.91 %
Outside the U.S. 171 14.04 %

Who did you vote for in the 2000 Presidential election?

Option Total %  
Bush 449 37.39 %
Gore 355 29.56 %
Nader 27 2.25 %
Didn't/couldn't vote 370 30.81 %
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