Affirmative action has been banned in two major universities. They say they need it


It’s been more than 15 years since two of the nation’s top public university systems, the University of Michigan and the University of California, were forced to stop using affirmative action in admissions.

Since then, both systems have attempted to build racially diverse student bodies through extensive outreach and major financial investments, reaching into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Those efforts have been woefully insufficient, the universities acknowledged in two amicus briefs filed this month with the Supreme Court, which is expected to consider the future of affirmative action in college admissions this fall.

Among the data points: In 2021, the freshman class at the University of California, Berkeley included 258 black students and 27 Native American students out of a class of 6,931. That same year, black enrollment at Michigan’s flagship campus in Ann Arbor were 4%, even as the university maintained a special admissions office in Detroit to recruit black students.

Awareness programs are extremely expensive. The University of California system says it has spent more than half a billion dollars since 2004 to increase diversity among its students.

In the briefs, university lawyers argue that without affirmative action, achieving racial diversity in highly selective universities is virtually impossible.

“Despite persistent, vigorous, and varied efforts to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of the student body through racially neutral means,” the Michigan brief stated, “the admission and enrollment of students from underrepresented minorities have dropped precipitously in many UM schools and colleges” since affirmative action ended.

Justin Driver, a professor at Yale Law School, said the stories from California and Michigan illustrate the fallout that can happen when affirmative action is banned in admissions.

“Despite incredibly valiant and sustained efforts to navigate the realities of a post-affirmative action world, flagship campuses in California and Michigan have failed to recruit members of racially marginalized groups,” Driver said. , who is considered an expert on the effect of high court decisions on education.

The Supreme Court is due to hear on October 31 the lawsuit brought by the anti-affirmative action organization Students for Fair Admissions which challenges the race-conscious methods Harvard and the University of North Carolina use to choose first-grade classes. year.

The organization says Harvard discriminates against Asian Americans and North Carolina is boosting admissions to underserved racial minorities. And the group argues in its own brief, filed this week, that ending affirmative action nationwide would help improve diversity at the University of California and the University of Michigan, “because they could better compete with the universities that currently use the breed.”

With the Supreme Court’s recent right-wing shift, affirmative action cases could upend 40 years of precedent that race can be considered a determining factor in college admission.

Such a shift could have significant implications for universities, many of which have argued that diverse environments enhance learning by exposing students to a variety of perspectives.

Affirmative action is prohibited by local law in nine states, including Michigan and California. Some states without affirmative action programs, such as Oklahoma, have taken the opposite position in court briefs, arguing that the University of Oklahoma “remains just as diverse today (if not more) than it did.” was when Oklahoma banned affirmative action in 2012.” Thirteen other states joined Oklahoma’s case.

Oklahoma’s freshman class of 2020, according to data released by the university, was 61% white, 12% Hispanic, 3.7% black, and 2.1% Native American. The state brief points out that a large number of students identified as “two or more races” and that the number of those who were black would increase the percentage of blacks to more than 6%. Black residents make up 7.8% of the state’s population.

A brief filed last year by Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, also takes the side of students for fair admissions, arguing against race-conscious admissions, even if the University of Texas uses some form of it.

The brief criticizes not only affirmative action but also diversity itself, stating, “Indeed, the very justifications for ‘diversity’ require abhorrent racial stereotyping.

Both Michigan and California are known for their highly rated schools that receive thousands of applications from across the country. With fiercely competitive admissions, applicants from underrepresented groups face greater barriers to enrollment.

At the University of Michigan, an electoral referendum known as Proposition 2, Affirmative Action Initiative, passed in 2006, resulting in a state constitutional ban on race-conscious admissions. This led to a sharp drop in enrollment of black and Native American students. Since then, Michigan has worked to diversify its student body through outreach programs.

They include a college advisory corps of young Michigan alumni, as well as a recruiting office in Detroit, a predominantly black city. Additional incentives include generous scholarships.

Calling Proposition 2 an “involuntary experiment” imposed on the university and acknowledging that its diversity profile has since suffered, Michigan spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the university’s experience should serve as a “narrative uplifting that underscores the compelling need for selective universities to be able to consider race as one of many contextual factors regarding applicants.”

Black undergraduate enrollment fell from 7% in 2006 to 4% in 2021, according to the brief, even as the total percentage of college-age African Americans in Michigan fell from 16% to 19%. At the same time, the Native American enrollment rate, once as high as 1%, has fallen to 0.11% in 2021, according to the brief.

Some prospective students said they see Michigan’s low black undergraduate enrollment as a reason to go elsewhere, illustrating how low numbers can further deter enrollment of students of color.

Aniya Caldwell, of Jackson, Michigan, was president of her high school’s National Honor Society in 2020, but chose to attend Howard University, the historically black college in Washington, D.C.

“Diversity at the University of Michigan is miniscule,” Caldwell said in a LinkedIn post. “Overall, I chose to go to Howard because I knew I would be surrounded by people of color and wouldn’t have to worry about further racism and discrimination.”

In California, Proposition 209 passed in 1996, banning racial preferences in admissions. In the fall of 2006, there were 96 black students in a freshman class of nearly 5,000 at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The black enrollment figure was so low that it shocked the UCLA community, giving the group the nickname “Infamous 96”.

Since then, enrollment of underserved minorities in the California system has partially recovered. For example, black enrollment at UCLA fell from 7% before Proposition 209 passed to 3.43% in 1998. By 2019, it had risen to 5.98%. California’s population is 6.5% black.

But advocates for the University of California system describe an uphill battle to achieve diversity, especially in the most selective schools.

While 52% of public high school students in California identify as Hispanic, 15% of freshmen at Berkeley identified as Hispanic, with the figure across the system’s nine campuses being 25%.

“Many students from underrepresented minority groups, especially those on UC’s more selective campuses, will often find themselves the only student of their race in a class,” the brief states.

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