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Univ. of Michigan unveils new admissions policy

DETROIT — DETROIT - The University of Michigan has passed its written test.

So say legal experts who reviewed the university's revised undergraduate admissions policy, unveiled yesterday. The policy replaces a numerical system the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in June because it automatically awarded extra points to underrepresented minority applicants.

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But critics of race-conscious admissions say they remain skeptical that the University of Michigan will do what it says - not elevate race above other factors in admissions.

"Their lawyers obviously did a good job; they followed the script the Supreme Court wrote for them," said Harvard law professor Charles Fried, who served as U.S. solicitor general in the Reagan administration.

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Fried and other conservatives said only time will tell whether the school can elude fixed quotas for minorities that the Supreme Court banned.

"What's going to matter is not the window dressing, but how, in fact, the plan works," said Roger Clegg, general counsel for the Center for Equal Opportunity, which opposes using race in admissions.

The new policy gives the greatest weight to grades, test scores and a student's high school curriculum. But it also requires closer review of an applicant's background, and places race and ethnicity on a par with nonacademic factors such as geography, family income, hobbies and alumni connections.

Much in the new policy is plainly cribbed from the Supreme Court's affirmative action rulings June 23. In a 5-4 vote, the court upheld race-conscious admissions policies at the University of Michigan's law school, while striking down the undergraduate policy. Among the language lifted from Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's majority opinion is the school's vow to take a more "holistic" approach to applications.

"The requirement that every application be considered individually in light of all of these factors has been accomplished," said Wayne State University law professor Robert Sedler, a supporter of affirmative action.

One element of the new policy that raised eyebrows is an essay question applicants must answer. High school seniors must choose between describing how they would contribute to campus diversity or describing how "cultural diversity," or the lack of it, has made a difference in their lives.

Clegg said the questions suggest there is only one, politically correct answer. "I'm afraid this is going to amount to a requirement that a student either write an essay that talks about how he has the right skin color, or that he write an essay that amounts to a pledge of allegiance to diversity," he said.

Attorney Ted Shaw, associate director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which supported the University of Michigan's previous undergraduate admissions policy, said he doubts white students will be rejected because they had little contact with minorities.

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Besides, Shaw added, because the high court allows colleges and universities to consider race, the questions are appropriate.

Shaw and other supporters of race-conscious policies said they do not believe that the new policy will result in fewer minority students.

By underscoring its commitment to attracting students from low-income and geographically diverse communities, the University of Michigan might well accept more white students from middle-income and rural areas. It might also accept more African-American students from Detroit high schools other than Cass Tech and Renaissance, the city's elite schools, Sedler said.


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