In a highly-anticipated discussion session, the full Board of Regents met with the Education Committee Thursday to discuss the legal and ethical issues swarming the UW admissions process.
The meeting’s premier presenter, Chancellor John Wiley, defended UW from some accusers who say the school puts an illegal emphasis on race during the admissions process.
“The fundamental arguments of the opponents are based on a fallacious model of college admissions,” Wiley said.
He denied the existence of a point system in the admissions process for an applicant’s race or ethnicity.
“Regent Mohs and others who believe there is something flawed in our admissions are frustrated because they’re looking for something that isn’t there,” Wiley said in an interview. “The fact that they can’t find it is simply a reflection of the fact that it isn’t there.”
In his presentation, Wiley, along with UW System President Katharine Lyall and system Deputy General Counsel Patricia Brady, attempted to make clear to the 17-member board that the admissions office does nothing illegal or unethical in its attempts to increase diversity enrollment.
“Every one of those students [admitted this fall] was admitted for a sufficient reason, not because of race,” Wiley said. “There is nothing in our policy that could fairly or accurately be termed ‘race preferencing.’ Every one of our students has earned their place.”
But Mohs said he is skeptical for a number of reasons.
“We don’t know a lot about what happens in [the admissions office],” Mohs said. “This is a serious problem I hope we can resolve.”
Mohs said he has made countless efforts to get an answer from the admissions office about what role the race of applicants plays in their selection. He also said he has not received an adequate answer.
“Having confidence in what our admissions office does is very important,” he said. “It is very frustrating for me to try and find this out. I admire and respect Chancellor Wiley — but I don’t buy it.”
Mohs’ concerns come just after judges ruled, in separate cases, that the Universities of Michigan and Georgia placed too much emphasis on race in their admissions policies.
Proponents of the current system say it is important to give a special emphasis to minority students in order to promote diversity. Opponents say the system is illegal and unfair.
Wiley said that the admissions policy puts an emphasis on all underprivileged or underrepresented people, not just minorities.
“There’s a long list of groups we’re to pay special attention to and that’s all spelled out in regent and faculty policy,” said Wiley. “We’re also in the middle of Plan 2008, which has a goal of increasing undergraduate representation, and we’re committed to that.”
Kevin Boatright, assistant vice president of UW Communications, said the cases in Michigan and Georgia will have no effect on UW unless they reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Here we do not have a numerical grading system of the sort [Georgia and Michigan were using],” Boatright said. “At UW they evaluate candidates on a whole grade of issues.”
In a statement delivered to Mohs in June, admissions director Rob Seltzer said the current system does not use quotas or targets for a particular population.
“The university has a compelling educational interest in fostering diversity,” Seltzer’s statement read. “The fact that the student belongs to one of these [underrepresented] groups is considered to be a plus facto in our review, but this fact alone never determines that we will admit the student.”
Instead, according to the report, these students are given extra consideration if placed on the “postpone” or “deny” ranges or if they appeal their decision.
Wiley said he is confident the system is constitutional as it is.
“I am always concerned and worried about being bogged down by legal issues, and it would be nice at some point to get closure on this, but that will never happen.” Wiley said. “Am I worried we might lose a legal case? No, I am very confident that what we do [is legal].”