Forum to discuss Michigan case, role of race in admission policies

DIn a case filed challenging the admissions policies of the University of Michigan, the Supreme Court ruled this past June that race cannot be factored in on a point-scale but that it can be considered along with other factors, including academics and extracurricular activities, in the admissions process.

“The ruling left our admission policies just fine and those were the ones most important to us,” said Cappy Hill, Provost. “We may have to look at some of our other academic programs.” Hill would not comment on which ones but said that the College “need[s] to look at whether [it] can target certain groups.”

The Supreme Court ruling has forced many colleges, including Williams, to rethink the role of race at the institution.

“Following the Court decisions, we are very pleased that the Court affirmed the use of race as a plus factor in a highly individualized undergraduate admission process,” said Nancy McIntire, Assistant to the President for Affirmative Action and Government Relations. “Williams has just that kind of admission process. We, and most other institutions, are still sorting out what impact these decisions have on any other programs.”

Dick Nesbitt, director of Admissions, said that for several years the College has been monitoring and working to ensure that its admission policies are in accordance with state and national law.

In the Michigan case, Nesbitt believes that the Court affirmed that the idea of diversity was a “compelling” issue that must be considered when reviewing applications.

He said that the problem with Michigan’s admission process was that its admissions department’s consideration of race on a point-scale provided them an unconstitutional and illegal approach to admissions.

Nesbitt emphasized that the admission process at the College is very different from the one at the University of Michigan. At the College, each admissions official carefully reads every application and judges each applicant individually. Moreover, race is not a deciding factor in admission. Rather, it is one of many that are considered in the “non-formulaic” process.

When reviewing application, Nesbitt said that admission officers take into account an individual’s academic, athletic, cultural and socio-economic background. Nesbitt believes that diversity comes it different forms. In general, the Admissions Office tries to use the application process to determine what invaluable qualities an applicant will bring to campus and whether or not he or she will fully benefit from a Williams education.

“Diversity is [one] goal” in the admissions process, Nesbitt said. “It is good for everyone.”

He also stressed that there is a misconception that admission officers are policy makers. “We are not policy makers,” said Nesbitt. “We carry out the mandate of the Trustees [and the Provost, who chairs AGAFA, an oversight committee on financial and admissions at Williams].”

On Wednesday, College Council (CC) will host a community forum on affirmative action. This discussion will include guest speakers President Schapiro, Hill, Nesbitt and McIntire.

CC members describe this forum as a place where community members can discuss affirmative action and its role in the admissions and hiring process here at the College. Also, the discussion will address how the decision rendered in the Gratz v. Bollinger case may affect the College.

“The main goal of this forum is to clarify any questions about the policy of this school on affirmative action and related issues, such as [campus] diversity,” said Chin Ho ’04, CC co-president. Mike Henry ’04, co-president of CC, also added that the community forum is a place where students can ask administrators questions about issues related to affirmative action. Henry hopes it fosters “healthy dialogue.”

McIntire added that this forum would sort through and analyze the details of the College’s admissions and hiring policies and practices. Aside from this forum, President Schapiro is presently working on an essay that deals with some of these same issues.

McIntire reiterated that the College will continue to identify potential undergraduate candidates, faculty and staff members who will bring a plethora of talents and experiences to the Williams community.