A physicist by trade, Chancellor John Wiley describes himself as a numbers guy.
Graphs, statistics, analysis of percentages and averages — Wiley loves it all. He says he even plays around with different number theories in his spare time.
And when it comes to discussing whether the University of Wisconsin should consider race as a factor in admissions, Wiley points to statistics and numbers to defend the university's policy.
For Wiley, UW must continue to consider race when deciding who is admitted to the university and who is denied, because race plays too significant a role in a person's life to be left to chance in admissions.
"If something is important and you ignore it, you turn it into a random variable. And if it's a random variable, it's subject to random fluctuation," Wiley said during an interview with The Badger Herald Wednesday in his Bascom Hall office. "If we ignore race, if we don't pay it any attention, we'll get such anomalous fluctuations that people will say, 'It's got to be racism. There's no way you'll get that result, except by discrimination.'"
If UW admissions were blind to race — if students were admitted solely on the basis of academic performance, and campus diversity was left to chance — Wiley said there would inevitably be long stretches of time when the campus would not be as diverse as it needs to be.
"Why would you want something that's important to fluctuate randomly?" Wiley said. "You'd like to have some control over it."
The question of whether UW should consider race in its admissions decisions arises as the Board of Regents debate allowing all UW System schools to add race and other "non-academic factors" to their admissions criteria.
Critics of the proposed policy changes, including state legislators and a prominent social activist, have argued that using race as an admissions criteria is discriminatory and sacrifices UW's academic integrity.
"The University of Wisconsin is a government agency, and it is bound by Constitutional law to treat people as equals," said Ward Connerly, a former University of California regent and current chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute, who is also black. "If you say [race] wasn't the only reason, but the university gives you extra consideration because of it and I didn't get that consideration, that's discrimination."
However, Wiley maintains that no student has ever been granted or denied admission to UW because of his or her race.
"We've gone out and looked for people that provide ethnic diversity to the campus, but we don't admit them unless they're fully qualified to be admitted," Wiley said. "If we were doing that — shame on us. That's a fraud on everybody, including the ones we admit, because we are bringing them into an environment where they can't succeed."
But according to spokesperson Mike Mikalsen, state Rep. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, is not swayed by Wiley's argument.
"If [UW] honestly believes that race has never decided if someone got in, then why do they use it?" Mikalsen said. "The reality is that race does play a deciding factor."
The numbers, however, prove otherwise, Wiley said.
According to admissions data released by UW, the university has admitted a higher percentage of "low-scoring" — applicants with ACT scores ranging from 6 to 15 — "majority" students than "minority" students.
And ultimately, Wiley said, race should remain an admissions factor because it remains a factor in "real life."
"Nobody wishes more than minorities that [race] were irrelevant and that they could be confident that they're always judged other than by their race," Wiley said. "But that's not the world we live in."