George W. Bush's statement on the Michigan Affirmative Action case, confronted with facts
I am not going to argue here for or against affirmative action. I will examine in detail some points in the statement of President Bush made at the time of filing (mid-January 2003) of the amicus curiae brief in the cases against the University of Michigan, and compare them with what I understand to be the relevant facts of the case.
I find that the arguments presented in the statement are seriously compromised by the omission or outright distortion of certain facts concerning the admissions systems at U-M and other universities. Since these deficiencies all have the effect of supporting the argument, I conclude that they cannot be coincidental, and that the statement is a deliberately misleading one. There is a case to be made against AA, but it cannot honestly be made in the way that George W. Bush does.
1. First, he said that the Michigan system "amounts to a quota system". Later, he expressed the admirable and factually impeccable sentiment that "quota systems that use race to include or exclude people from higher education and the opportunities it offers are divisive, unfair and impossible to square with the Constitution." In arguing against the U-M system and introducing his preferred system, he also said that "diversity can be achieved without using quotas." In closing, he referred to "unconstitutional quotas". Now, it is well-known that quota systems, in which a certain number of places are set aside for those of a particular racial minority are unconstitutional, by precedent of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (decided 1978).
If the U-M system were a quota, there would have been no reason to refer it to the Supreme Court: the case would have been decided in a lower court. In fact, the system is a points system in which all students are awarded a points total and those with higher points are preferred. To avoid future confusion, here is the system for the LSA (Literature, Science and Arts) school:
The Michigan LSA System
(Source: http://www.umich.edu/~urel/admissions/faqs/uapolicy.html. I do not know why male nurses are not mentioned here.)
Counselors evaluate applications aided by a "selection index" worksheet listing factors the University believes important (...) and select a numerical value for each factor, up to a possible total of 150 points. Academic factors account for up to 110 points. Eighty points are available for academic GPA from tenth and eleventh grades, and 12 points are available for standardized test scores. Every applicant from the same school receives the same number of points -- up to ten -- for the academic strength of that school. In addition, counselors subtract up to four points for an applicant who chose a weaker curriculum when a stronger one was available, and add up to eight points for an applicant who selected more challenging courses.
Applicants receive up to 40 points for other factors (...). They may receive 20 points for one of the following: membership in an underrepresented minority group, socioeconomic disadvantage, attendance at a predominantly minority high school, athletics, or at the Provost's discretion. (...) Counselors assign ten points for Michigan residency, six additional points for residency in underrepresented Michigan counties, and two points for residency in underrepresented states. Applicants receive one or four points for alumni relationships. The personal essay can earn up to three points. Based on an applicant's activities, work experience, and awards, counselors may assign up to five points for leadership and service, and five more points for personal achievement.
Why would Bush say that a system that is not a quota "amounts to" one, and proceed to speak against quotas? He is either misinformed, or trying to plant the false idea in people's minds that U-M operates a quota system. On a related subject, lower courts have found that the U-M policy is not "functionally equivalent to a quota" and does not violate Bakke. (Further, the majority in Bakke agreed that it was not unconstitutional to use race as a factor, provided that quotas were not used.) (Source: http://www.umich.edu/~urel/admissions/faqs/comply.html.)
2. Second, he said that "(...) the University of Michigan's admissions policies (...) award students a significant number of extra points based solely on their race, and establishes (sic.) numerical targets for incoming minority students (...)." In fact, 20 points can be awarded for race, but the same points can also be awarded for "socioeconomic disadvantage, attendance at a predominantly minority high school, athletics, or at the Provost's discretion". It is incorrect to say that these points are awarded "based solely on race". If we imagine four students, one a white non-athlete, one a black non-athlete, one a white athlete, and one a black athlete, the first would not receive 20 points (assuming that the other factors do not come into play), while the other three would receive the points. It is also impossible to say whether the black athlete had received points for race, or for athletics, or for both: compared to the white athlete, he or she receives no race-based advantage. If the points were awarded solely on race, the white athlete would not receive them. Further, there are in fact no "numerical targets for incoming minority students". (Sources as above.)
3. He said that "At the law school, some minority students are admitted to meet percentage targets (...)". This is not correct. In fact, there are no percentage targets, which would imply a quota system unconstitutional under Bakke. Also in the case of the Law School, he said that "(...) students are being selected or rejected based primarily on the color of their skin." In fact, the Law School explicitly says that it would not admit candidates who were academically unqualified for the courses. This requirement, along with others unrelated to race, excludes a large majority of their applicants of all races. Further, the number of successful applicants identifying with racial minorities is about a quarter of the total number of admissions. Further, the admissions procedure does not take into account skin color: it asks the applicants to optionally specify racial or ethnic identification. Can you distinguish Native Americans by "the color of their skin"? Bush said that the Law School is doing it. If it were taking photographs and measuring skin color, such an inflammatory statement would be justified.
If "the color of their skin" (which we are charitably interpreting to mean race) were the primary reason for selection or rejection, then one would expect many minority students to be selected who were academically inadequate, and few (academically adequate or otherwise) white students to be accepted. In fact, most minority students are rejected, on many factors including academic ones, and most of the accepted students are white (by a margin of three to one). Bush grossly overstated the importance of race in the procedure by saying that it was primary: more important than all other factors.
Also referring to the Law School, he said that "other applicants with higher grades and better scores (than some minority applicants) are passed over." This is evidently true. However, this is not evidence of race-based preferential treatment, since the Law School openly says that "grades and (...) scores" are only one of many factors, even when race is excluded. I quote: "Even as predictors of academic performance (...) those numbers must be considered in conjunction with such information as the rigor of the undergraduate course of study, the quality of the academic institution attended, the progress observed in the applicant's undergraduate academic performance, recommendations, and essays." Compare a minority student obtaining certain grades from a rigorous, top school, with a white student with better grades from a mediocre school: you can easily see how the example that Bush is presenting as evidence could come about, without the least racial bias. (Source: http://www.umich.edu/~urel/admissions/faqs/lawqa.html.)
4. He describes systems in place in California, Texas and Florida which guarantee admission to a certain percentage of students at the top of their high school class - in Texas, the top 10% - with the implication that this is a better system than the U-M one. I will not immediately attempt to argue which system is better. Rather, I will draw attention to certain facts which undermine Bush's argument why his preferred system is better.
Clearly, this is a quota system, since a certain number of places must be set aside for these top 10%. Further, since high schools differ widely in academic standards, some applicants from mediocre high schools will benefit from being in the top 10%, at the expense of more able applicants who attend better schools but are not in the top 10%. Further, the high school system in Texas is segregated by race to an unusual extent; not because of any racial prejudice, but as the result of historical and socioeconomic factors. When the plan (called "affirmative access") was being devised, everyone in Texas knew that the school system was effectively segregated to a large extent. The plan was approved in the knowledge that it would enforce 10% admission from minority schools, no matter what their academic credentials. The effect of "affirmative access" in Texas was almost identical to what the effect of a 10% race-based quota would be. If you are going to agree with Bush that the U-M system "amounts to a quota", you must agree that the system he favours also "amounts to a quota"; a quota introduced via the back door of segregated schools. If high schools were predominantly racially mixed, the Texas plan would be useless in its aim of achieving racial diversity at U-T.
It is also worth remarking that "affirmative access" gives bright minority students an incentive to stay in low-performing schools where it's easy to make the top 10%, rather than academic high schools where the chance of making the top 10% are much lower, and is a disincentive for low-performing schools to improve, since their top 10% will get into U-T regardless. To descend to rhetoric for a moment: "George Bush's brilliant 'race-neutral' plan actually encourages segregation in high schools." (Sources: http://www.dailyhowler.com/dh012403.shtml, http://slate.msn.com/id/1004097/.)
And I didn't even mention legacy admissions.
's points above. This writeup, rather than my hastily-written msgs, is my considered view of the Bush administration
's position. On the quota
question, I have seen figures showing that the total minority
intake at the Law School was approximately 24% in two consecutive years. I do not know the figures in other cases. I find it difficult to believe that the total percentage of minorities has been constant throughout the period of application of the current U-M policy, particularly when the figures for different ethnic groups, taken separately, show wide fluctuations - 7% Latino one year and 4% the next. An accurate
and extended set of figures would be welcome.
The current U-M President Mary Sue Coleman has said: "We do not have, and have never had, quotas or numerical targets in either the undergraduate or Law School admissions programs. Academic qualifications are the overwhelming consideration for admission to both programs." Now unless she is incorrect, and U-M is operating a clandestine quota system, (and unless some proof is found of this!) we must accept on current evidence that there is no quota.
I admit that legacy admissions are little more than a debating point in the U-M case. In other universities (Yale?) they may be more important and skew admissions away from minorities.
I suspect kaytay would not have mentioned GPA if I had not brought it up. What I found objectionable was comparing the possible 20 point bonus for race or other factors, with the 12 points for SAT, without mentioning the other 98 points that may be awarded for academic factors. To cheaply answer the example, if the white A student were better than the minority B student (assuming that neither of them were poor or an athlete, and all other things being equal), he or she would get a better SAT score, would write a better essay, and would come out ahead.
Regarding the facts of the admission system, I don't think it is possible to get 163 points. If you read the version at http://www.cnn.com/2003/ALLPOLITICS/01/17/bush.affirmative.action/ carefully, you will see that the 5 points for being a male nursing applicant are not added to the 20 points potentially awarded for race, since one can only gain points from one option out of the two. And crucially, non-academic factors are explicitly limited to 40 points maximum. So, assuming my information is correct, 150 is indeed the maximum.