Admissions office awaits race decision

Alexander Pegg

No matter what decision the Supreme Court hands down in two University of Michigan affirmative action cases, Northwestern’s director of Office of Undergraduate Admission said Wednesday night that NU is “prepared to do what we can to retain diversity.”

Keith Todd said NU will closely watch the justices’ ruling on the constitutionality of race-based admissions after the court hears testimony April 1. While Todd wouldn’t talk specifics about any plans to adjust NU’s system, he spoke about his work at Rice University, where “massive, expensive, targeted recruiting” was used to maintain diversity on campus.

Todd spoke Wednesday night at a panel discussion titled “Affirmative Action: The Legacy. The Future.” 35 students participated in the dialogue at the Multicultural Center, led by Todd, history and African American studies Prof. Nancy MacLean, and Law School Prof. Victor Rosenblum.

Grutter v. Bollinger concerns a woman who was refused admissions to the University of Michigan’s Law School and claims the school gave preference to less qualified minority students. Gratz v. Bollinger contests the university’s undergraduate admissions process, which uses a point system to give minorities a boost. A black applicant, for example, is given 20 points for his race on the 150-point scale.

Although the panelists agreed that the cases were important, there was no consensus as to what implications the ruling might have. Rosenblum said the Supreme Court may more rigidly define its past rulings on affirmative action.

“These may very well be the cases that will define what can be done,” he said. “These cases will set the legal pattern, with broad implications for public and private universities.

MacLean, however, said she doubted the decisions would be widely applied.

“I don’t think its going to be a decision that will lead to lots of new policies and new issues,” she said. “I think it will have a big impact, but I think the desire for diversity is so rooted in American culture that this won’t change everything.”

Weinberg Freshman Marcia Walker said after the event that although she thought the cases would have a large impact, it would be social rather than legal.

“I feel like legally, it might not be such a huge deal,” Walker said.

Students also were eager to discuss the nature of affirmative action and how it is applies to NU. Todd gave students a look at affirmative action from the admissions point of view.

“Affirmative action is not a simple issue,” he said. “It’s not just black and white, but so much more than that. We want diversity across the board.”

Todd said many public universities read tens of thousands of applications. So without a point system for qualities such as race, gender, athletics, fine arts and legacies, achieving diversity would be difficult at best.

Most private universities, like NU, do not evaluate applications based on this point system, Todd added.

“No one at Northwestern is ever admitted because they are white, because they are black, because they are Asian, because they are an athlete” said Todd, who noted that NU considers applicants as individual cases.