More on Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action–this time from a reader who is a U-Mich. undergraduate alum and currently a Ph.D. candidate there in Sociology*

Reader Dan Hirschman, a U-Mich. undergraduate alum and currently a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology there, wrote the following comment to my post here yesterday titled “What I agree with Richard Kahlenberg about on Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action.  And what I don’t.”:

Dear Beverly,

Thank you for the fantastic analysis of this case over the past few days! The discussion of Scalia’s shifting invocations of the 14th Amendment have particularly useful for me as someone without a law degree trying to follow the ins and outs of the case.

I had one thought about the changing composition of UM’s campus. I’m a current PhD student, and a former undergrad, and I’ve also done some research with two other sociologists on the history of admissions and affirmative action here at UM. The big shift that, I think, explains the change in class make-up at UM is not the changing emphasis on race, but the combination of the (semi) privatization of the university (that is, the massive cutback in state support) and the simultaneous push to become a more elite university as judged by standards like the USNWR. For example, as far back as the 1980s, Michigan did very well in the USNWR, but was criticized for its relatively low SAT/ACT scores in comparison to other top 20/25 universities. Together, these goals called for a strategy of recruiting an ever-growing number of high achieving out-of-state students able to pay the Ivy-like out-of-state tuition and simultaneously bump up the average SAT/ACT score of the undergrad body.

These goals are then in explicit conflict with any strong form of class-based diversity. UM’s admissions policies – from the points-system of the mid-90s through the post-Gratz holistic assessment – included some attempt to account for economic diversity. For example, under the points system, students from the upper peninsula and Detroit both received extra points for being from underrepresented parts of the state. But these measures have always been seemingly weak against the larger forces pushing towards recruiting wealthier and higher achieving (in the sense of measurable achievements) students. This is not to excuse Michigan’s actions, but just to try to place them in the broader field of American higher ed in the past 30 years.

Berkeley and UCLA, in comparison, have maintained much stronger ties to the California educational system (through the stronger community college transfer programs, for example), and (until quite recently) much lower tuition supported by higher levels of state funding.

Also, and somewhat relatedly, if you haven’t seen it, Anna Kirkland and Ben Hansen have a fascinating paper analyzing Michigan’s undergraduate admissions diversity essay question, and how students interpret and respond to the questions by race and class.

To which I say: Thanks so much, Dan. Your comment is awesome.  And not just because of the first line in it!

And your point about the semi-privatization of U-M–a fact that has gone unmentioned in anything else I’ve read about the situation–is so, so important.

Again, thanks.


*Title typo-corrected, 10/17.