Michigan schools weigh affirmative action ruling

AP News
Posted: Nov 16, 2012 5:22 PM

DETROIT (AP) — Representatives of at least three universities in Michigan said Friday they're taking a wait-and-see approach on how to proceed after a federal appeals court threw out the state's voter-approved ban on affirmative action in college admissions.

The Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit Court, in its 8-7 decision Thursday, said the six-year-old constitutional amendment is illegal because it presents an extraordinary burden to opponents who would have to mount their own long, expensive campaign through the ballot box to protect affirmative action.

As the college admissions process for 2013 picks up, a number of schools in Michigan said they're not going to do much to alter existing admissions policies.

Rick Fitzgerald, a spokesman for the University of Michigan, said the Ann Arbor school needed time to fully review the court's "extensive ruling representing multiple opinions."

"We do not intend to make any changes to our admissions processes until we have fully considered the decision and its ramifications, including the possibility that Supreme Court review will be sought," Fitzgerald said, echoing the sentiments of representatives from Michigan State and Grand Valley State universities, who also said their schools' admissions policies would stay the same until the legal process plays itself out.

In this case, it will probably end with a ruling from the highest court in the land.

Since a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision, universities have been allowed to use racial preferences if they choose, though they are not compelled to do so. The court recently heard arguments in a case that could change that precedent — Abigail Fisher, a rejected white applicant, is suing the University of Texas.

Adding to the uncertainty, Stetson University College of Law professor Peter Lake said he could envision a scenario in which the Supreme Court also will take up the Michigan case or a similar one from another federal appeals court. A California law much like Michigan's was upheld by a San Francisco-based appeals court.

University administrators seem to be in a precarious position.

"I think that the (administrators) in Michigan in particular have their hands full in trying to determine how to act based on the directive they're getting," said Lake, who directs the Florida school's Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law & Policy.

"A lot of schools will probably just say they'll do what they've been doing until they get a clean national mandate to the contrary, but they're going to lose a lot of sleep over it," he said.

Jeanne Arnold, Grand Valley State University's vice president for inclusion and equity, said the school in the western part of the state is "encouraged by the ruling," though she said no immediate policy changes were expected.

Still, she said, the ruling could help the university's efforts to create a diverse student body.

"I think it can have a positive effect and probably will on perceptions," she said. "No one wants to go to a place where they believe that place is not open to them, those with ... diverse voices and backgrounds."

Arnold said Grand Valley recorded a 30 percent enrollment decline among minority freshmen in the fall of 2008 — two years after voters approved the ban.

The university has not used race as a deciding factor for accepting students, but she said "we stepped up our efforts" since the ban was implemented to "recruit broadly" — especially among high schools where the student body is ethnically and racially diverse.

She said the university has made gains but "we're not back to where we could have been if Proposal 2 didn't happen."


Associated Press writers Jeff Karoub and Ed White contributed to this report.


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