Discrimination Alive and Well

Racial discrimination is alive and well in American higher education, but it’s not the sort intended to exclude racial and ethnic minorities, unless they happen to be Asian.

For a decade now, my Center for Equal Opportunity has documented the double standards used by colleges and universities in giving preference in admission to blacks and Hispanics while disfavoring better qualified whites and Asians.

In July 2003, the Supreme Court struck down the University of Michigan’s undergraduate affirmative action admissions program, which favored blacks and, to a lesser extent, Hispanics. But three new CEO studies released this week show that preferences, for blacks especially, have gotten worse in subsequent years. And these preferences extend to law and medical school admissions as well.

In 2003, the Supreme Court handed down two decisions on Michigan’s admissions programs. In Gratz v. Bollinger, the Court ruled that the university’s undergraduate program, which awarded extra points on the basis of race or ethnicity, was unconstitutional. In Grutter v. Bollinger, which examined the law school’s admissions procedures, the Court upheld the school’s program, which it contended took race into account but did not mechanically award specific points for race or ethnicity.

Even in the Grutter decision, however, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who wrote the 5-4 majority opinion, said, "We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary." But the evidence from our studies shows the university is not on a path to eliminating preferences in either its undergraduate or graduate programs.

CEO looked at undergraduate, law school and medical school admissions at UM for 1999, 2003, 2004 and 2005, with information provided by the university under a freedom of information request. In all years and at all levels, the University of Michigan routinely admitted blacks and Hispanics with lower test scores and grades than whites or Asians — and the differences were large.

In 2005, for example, the combined median SAT scores for blacks were 190 points lower (on a scale of 1600) than whites and 240 points lower than Asians. Similarly, blacks trailed whites in high school grade point averages by .5 and Asians by .4 (out of a potential 4.0). Over all the years analyzed, 8,000 whites, Asians and Hispanics were rejected who had higher grades and test scores than the median black admittee, including nearly 2,700 such students in 2005 alone.

The odds favoring black undergraduate admittees over whites with the same SAT scores in 2005 were 70 to 1, and 46 to 1 for Hispanics. And such preferences are not limited to undergraduate admissions, which arguably reflect greater disparities in opportunities among racial and ethnic minorities who may have attended poorer performing public schools. Blacks and, to a lesser extent, Hispanics also enjoy preferences in law and medical school admissions.

For example, odds ratios favoring black law school applicants over whites with the same test scores, grades, sex, Michigan residency and alumni connections were 36 to 1 in 1999, though they dropped to a still high 18 to 1 in 2005. For Hispanics, the odds ratios were 4 to 1 in 1999, 2 to 1 in 2003, and more than 3 to 1 in 2004 and 2005.

Perhaps the most disheartening evidence in the CEO studies, however, was that racial preferences don’t even help the intended beneficiaries succeed in college. Based on college GPAs, Hispanics generally did less well than whites or Asians, though the best performing Hispanics (those whose grades put them at the 75th percentile) did about as well as their white and Asian counterparts in one year, 1999.

But blacks, who were awarded the greatest degree of preference in admission, performed more poorly than other groups across the board, with those blacks whose grades put them at the 75th percentile for their racial group performing below the 25th percentile for whites. And both blacks and Hispanics were far more likely to be put on academic probation during their undergraduate career.

But voters in Michigan will have a chance to put a stop to these pernicious practices on Nov. 7 by voting for the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which bans universities from using race or ethnicity to discriminate against or give preference to any individual. A similar initiative was enacted in California in 1996, and the result has made admissions fairer to everyone, including blacks and Hispanics who can now be confident they are being admitted on merit rather than on the color of their skin.

The full CEO study is available online at