(submitted in response to Dick Feagler's commentary in the January 19, 2003 Plain Dealer "Perfume Can't Mask Stench of Racism")


Letters to the Editor

The Plain Dealer

1801 Superior Ave.

Cleveland, OH 44114


January 19, 2003


Dear Editor,


Dick Feagler, in his January 19, 2003 commentary “Perfume can’t mask the stench of racism,” wrote, “[T]he kind of affirmative action they practice at the University of Michigan is racism with perfume on it.”  I would counter that objections to affirmative action in general and the University of Michigan’s admissions policy in particular are the true examples of “racism with perfume on it.”


Most troubling are Mr. Feagler and President Bush’s disinterest in understanding the U of M policy or worse their insistence on misrepresenting it.  There is no quota system at the University of Michigan.  In addition, minorities do not receive a “bonus” anymore than legacies, state residents, or athletes receive a bonus.  Applicants can receive a score of up to 150 points on a selection index.  Nearly 75% or 110 of these points are academic—up to 80 points for 10th and 11th grade GPA and up to 12 points for standardized test score (SAT or ACT).  Every student from the same school receives the same number of points (up to 10) based on the academic strength of the school.  In addition, up to 8 points can be added for students who take challenging course work (advanced placement courses, honors courses, etc.) or up to 4 points can be subtracted from students who chose a weaker curriculum where a stronger one is available. Yet, no one is crying foul that a student in a “weaker” school that does not offer AP or honors courses can “lose” up to 19 points.


Applicants can receive up to 40 points based on other factors indicating the applicant’s potential contribution to the university.  These points are divided into categories such as Geography (up to 16 points), Alumni or legacies (4 points), Essay (3 points), Personal Achievement (5 points), Leadership and Service (5 points) , and Miscellaneous (20 points).  In Geography, for example, Michigan students get 10 points and applicants from underrepresented Michigan counties (such as on the Upper Peninsula, which happens to be largely white) receive an additional 6 points.  Where are the cries of injustice over a UP resident displacing a “qualified” Detroit or Grand Rapids applicant?  The controversy over minorities receiving 20 points in the Miscellaneous category rarely addresses the fact that an applicant can also receive 20 points for being poor, a scholarship athlete, or merely at the “Provost’s discretion” in this category or that men can also receive 5 points in this category for applying to nursing programs.  The points in the Miscellaneous category cannot be added together and can only be awarded for a single option.  So a poor minority male nursing student who is a scholarship athlete and whose family is well connected to the Provost cannot receive 85 points, only either 5 points (male nurse option) or 20 points (either poor, minority, athlete, or Provost’s discretion option).  This same student however can get the 16 points for Geography, and 4 for having a parent as an alumnus/alumnae, etc.


The college admissions process is more art than science.  There is and never has been a single yardstick by which all students are measured.  Our school systems are locally run.  We do not have a uniform state or national system of schools.  Courses, books, curricula, standards, and grading scales vary not only from state to state, but from school to school and even teacher to teacher.  Applicants with such diverse educational formations must nonetheless be compared and these comparisons will by definition be subjective.  After all, the goal is to predict how well each applicant will perform in a particular institution over a four year period.  Lacking the aid of “Minority Report” Pre-Cog clairvoyants, this process will be imperfect. But failure to recognize differences in students’ backgrounds, experiences, and education in the application process is truly what would be, in President’s words, “fundamentally flawed.”  Furthermore, ignoring race as one of many factors in this decision, while continuing to include socio-economic status, athletic ability, geographic location, sex, and familial and personal ties to the university or its administrators in this equation would be deeply racist.


Milton Alan Turner