Conservative Think Tank Undermines Diversity Efforts at UW-Madison
The University of Wisconsin—Madison and a Virginia conservative think tank are at odds over allegations that the school is discriminating against white students, admitting less qualified minorities at a significantly higher rate.
The Center for Equal Opportunity, based in Falls Church, Va., issued two new reports this week examining admissions for the school’s 2007 and 2008 undergraduate classes [PDF] and students admitted to the law school in 2005 and 2006 [PDF].
“The studies show that literally hundreds of students applying as undergrads or to the law school are rejected in favor of students with lower test scores and grades,” Linda Chavez, the center’s chairwoman, told the National Law Journal. “And the reason is that they have the wrong skin color or their parents came from the wrong countries."
Contrary to what its name may suggest, the Center for Equal Opportunity has made rolling back diversity clauses and affirmative-action efforts in well-intentioned schools its primary goal and UW-Madison is its freshest target. (The center’s president maintains the group is “not against diversity” but is “against discrimination.”)
In the past, the center has claimed that minority candidates at numerous law schools are given preferential admission, including at the University of Arizona, Arizona State, the University of Nebraska, and the University of Virginia.
According to the report, whites and Asians aren’t getting a fair shot at being accepted into the school. The center argues that blacks and Hispanics have an easier time getting into the school because of its affirmative action policies, which take race into account when sifting through applicants.
For instance, the law school accepted 43 percent of black applicants and 39 percent of Hispanic applicants in 2006, compared with just 18 percent of Asian applicants and 24 percent of white applicants, according to the study.
The study also reports that black and Latino applicants were significantly less qualified than their white and Asian peers, but were often admitted. Based on SAT scores and class rank, minority applicants were more than 500 times more likely to be admitted, according to the study.
But UW-Madison uses a holistic approach to admissions, which takes a wide variety of factors into account when determining whether to admit a student.
A holistic process was ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 when it upheld the process at the University of Michigan in Grutter v. Bollinger, ruling that race can considered in admissions as long as it’s not the sole factor.
A second look at the numbers, however, might reveal to CEO that whites and Asians aren’t having a tough time getting into the college.
Sara Goldrick-Rab, an education professor at the University of Wisconsin, explains why she considers the report laughable in a blog post:
In Wisconsin 2.5 percent of Blacks are in prison. That rate is 8 times higher than it is for Whites.
Just 65 percent of Blacks earn a high school diploma on time in Wisconsin, compared to 95 percent of Whites.
But for some reason, it outrages the Center for Equal Opportunity that in 2007-2008, Blacks made up 2.6 percent of the student body admitted to UW-Madison—while 85.5 percent of those incoming classes were white.
University officials have made it clear that they refuse to entertain the notion that discrimination is at play.
“These organizations put as their mission to systematically dial back the work gained from the civil rights era," said Damon Williams, the school’s vice provost and chief diversity officer.
And the school’s interim chancellor David Ward said: “Any student who is accepted at UW-Madison is here because he or she has the potential and the capacity to succeed. No matter what a student's class rank or test scores were, students who are accepted qualify for a spot at this university. No one is admitted solely because of race or ethnicity.”
The center’s most recent report claims its “new studies” are evidence of “severe racial discrimination at University of Wisconsin.” It comes at the same time that opponents of affirmative action are expected to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to explore the constitutionality of such practices at the University of Texas.
Students were equally appalled by the allegations and are demonstrating their outrage at the report by organizing protests and issuing a press release.
During a press conference hosted by the center, more than 100 students interrupted, shouting “power to the people!” and “more than our scores!” The outburst caused the center’s president to leave the press conference and, according to the Wisconsin State Journal, students instead shared stories of diversity with the crowd.
David Vines, a representative on the school’s student government expressed his indignation: “Are we going to get sued for not having enough white people at our school? How crazy is that?”
He’s right—it’s pretty crazy.
Emily Wood is a staff writer with Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @em_nicole55.