TCS Daily

The Holes in Holistic Admissions

By Stephen Bainbridge - November 20, 2006 12:00 AM

No sooner had Michigan voters passed Proposition 2, which bans affirmative action by state institutions in education, employment, and contracting, than University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman went to the University's famous Diag to issue a defiant blast. In a scene eerily mirroring Southern governors standing in school doors, Coleman announced a campaign of massive resistance to Proposition 2:

"I am deeply disappointed that the voters of our state have rejected affirmative action as a way to help build a community that is fair and equal for all. But we will not be deterred in the all-important work of creating a diverse, welcoming campus. We will not be deterred."[1]

Coleman plans a legal challenge to Proposition 2, but the odds are stacked against her. Michigan's Proposition 2 essentially tracks California's Proposition 209, which has been upheld by the courts against legal challenges.

Once the legal dust settles, the University of Michigan likely will look to the University of California's experience under Proposition 209 as a model.

The UC system has made no secret of its desire to preserve racial diversity on its campus. As UC President Richard Atkinson once explained:

"When race and ethnicity were disallowed, UC launched a greatly intensified program of outreach to public schools, working in partnership to improve academic performance and college eligibility in schools that traditionally sent few students to UC. We also made changes in our admissions process — such as granting UC eligibility to the top 4% of students in every California high school."[2]

The representation of certain minority groups in the UCLA student body dropped after 209 passed, especially African-Americans and Latinos, as it did at other UC campuses. Although Latino representation has increased somewhat in recent years, African-American enrollment at UCLA remains well below its pre-209 level. Clearly, the University administration is dissatisfied. According to and article in UCLA Today:

[Former UCLA Albert Chancellor] Carnesale ... calls the dearth of African-American faces among UCLA students "one of two critical challenges facing the university" alongside the need for increased financial resources.

"There is no question in my mind that my successor must be committed to meeting this challenge head-on," Carnesale said in a June 5 letter to members of the UCLA Afrikan Student Union, who met with the chancellor June 2 following a student demonstration.

It's with this background in mind that we must evaluate UCLA's recent decision to adopt a so-called holistic admission policy. UCLA's Janina Montero described the school's policy this way:

Under the new model, the review of each application will be an integrated process that will consider the full record of a student's achievements and experiences, as well as the challenges faced, and provide a more carefully individualized and qualitative assessment.[3]

And according to UCLA's News Office:

"Holistic review is another philosophical approach to implementing comprehensive review, and it will allow us the opportunity to have applications reviewed in their entirety so that all of a student's achievements — from academic performance to leadership skills and community services — can be looked at in the context of their life experiences," said Jenny Sharpe, chair of the faculty Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Relations with Schools.[4]

It's clear that the continued low levels of African-Americans in the UCLA student body was the "catalyst" for this change.[5]

But why do UCLA administrators think holistic review will address that problem? If consideration of race is excluded from the process, do the life experiences and personal achievements of underrepresented minorities systematically differ from those of whites or Asian-Americans? To be sure, an African-American who excels despite growing up in an economically disadvantaged home has overcome important challenges relative to some privileged Beverly Hills High white student. But so has a white child from a family below the poverty line or an Asian-American from an immigrant family. In other words, if applied without regard to race, holistic admission should affect class differences in the student body rather than racial ones.

As commentator Lance Izumi observes, however, UC Berkeley's experience with its similar system of comprehensive review suggests that holistic admissions in fact will affect the racial composition of the student body:

Although race is not overtly mentioned as a factor in the comprehensive-review admissions process, the numbers indicate that it plays a significant role. A Los Angeles Times analysis shows that at UC Berkeley, low-scoring blacks and Hispanics were admitted at twice the rate of similarly scoring Asians and whites.[6]

A cynic thus might wonder whether the readers charged with holistically evaluating admission files share UM President Coleman's refusal to "stand by while the very heart and soul of this great university is threatened," and are taking into account the race of candidates despite Proposition 209's ban. Indeed, when Berkeley adopted comprehensive review, student activist Hoku Jeffrey noted that it gave "admissions officials the ability on paper to reverse the segregation ... and that's what must be done."[7]

The trouble with holistic admissions is that the readers don't have to explain why they make their admission decisions. They simply score the files. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the readers thus could systematically bias their scores so as to promote diversity, and no one would be the wiser. Even if required to offer an explanation for their scores, moreover, readers likely would point to some wrinkle other than race in each application that purportedly justified their decision.

It's a sure bet that UM officials will look to the UC as a model for dealing with Proposition 2. When they do so, Michigan voters should insist on a far greater degree of transparency and accountability than California voters have received.

[1] Mary Sue Cleman, Diversity Matters at Michigan (Nov. 8, 2006), available at

[2] Richard C. Atkinson, Efforts to Reflect Diversity Fall Short (2003), available at

[3] Janina Montero, Holistic Evaluation Makes Admissions Fair, UCLA Today (Oct. 24, 2006), available at

[4] UCLA News Office Press Release, UCLA Adopts a Holistic Approach to Reviewing Freshman Applications; Change Is Most Sweeping Since Systemwide Revisions Five Years Ago (Sept. 28, 2006), available at

[5] Ibid.

[6] Lance T. Izumi, Berkeley's "F": Unfair admissions game, Nat'l Rev. Online (Nov. 24, 2003), available at

[7] Eric Ostrem, Regents Committee Passes Comprehensive Admissions, Daily Californian (Nov. 15, 2001), available at



Non-Discrimiatory Admission Policies
Non-discriminatory admission requires selection based on objective criteria, such as grades and test scores. Computers should select all candidates based on objective criteria. Manual (thus subjective and discriminatory) review should only be used in the event of "ties"...where applicants have very similar objective results, and thus other less-objective criteria must be used. Even in these cases, only merit related factors should be considered...which excludes race, gender, alumni-affiliation, religious affiliation, sexual preference, etc...

Fairness under the US Constitution requires that the process of selection be based on objective criteria equally applied to each candidate. Any other approach is discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Once Again TCS Columists Show Their Racism
It is implied all through the article: RACISM!! and the first couple of posters show their own racism by agreeing that even though this is now and always has been a racist society which discriminates against blacks, chicanos and other people of color; we should do nothing to counter the discrimination people of color are still facing today that makes them second class citizens in college admission standards.

Shame on you racists.

There is no "level playing field" and you people know it; you just look for any opportunity to show your racism, so you pick a pro-racist site like TCS to do it.


What is the purpose of a school?
The purpose of a school is to educate, not repair social inequalities.

The people who are making admission decisions should not be given any information on race or sex.

Refusing admission to people who are qualified in deference to people who aren't, because of race is wrong.

The people who are now being discriminated against are not the ones responsible for past discrimination and shouldn't be punished for something they didn't do.

Two wrongs do not make a right.
I don't know what the solution is, but this is a bad one.

Women are doing far better is schools than men, should we now start to discriminate against woman and enforce parity by sex now?

Grow up!!
The constitutional right to a "free and public education" ends with high school. It is not the responsibility of public universities to level any playing field. The teaching of remedial reading and math at a four-year university is ridiculous. This problem can only be solved by improving the quality of education at primary and secondary schools. This includes not only infrastructure and hiring quality teachers, but PARENTAL involvement. It also includes MUCH more effort on the part of students to prepare themselves for higher education. Blaming this problem on racism is a lazy cop-out. You can engage in name calling and scolding, or you come up with REAL solutions that take into account the responsibilities of ALL parties. By the way, Asians are people of color as well. They tend to do very well in American universities. How do you explain that??

Name calling and emotional invective does not provide a solution.
If you, and the others who feel the same way, would spend half as much time (and money) in the community, helping minority children get the education they need to succeed, there would be no lack of minority students in our university system.

Unfortunately, Liberals, like you, don't want to spend their own money, contribute the sweat from their own brows, and really find a solution to the basic education (K-12) issues we face. If those issues were resolved so would the problem of minority admissions to universities.

Indeed, Liberals don't want solutions, they want perpetuation of problems to provide a never ending source of political issues with which they can inflame their base, insure re-election, and perpetuate their political power.

The real racism is manifested by the Liberals through their continued re-enslavement of minorities just to retain power. Not by those of us who actually spend our own money, provide our own time, and actively work within the community to educate and elevate all minorities.

From Michigan
The proposition met with great success despite just about every public figure telling us not to vote for it.

This was done specifically to rein in U of M and their continued refusal to understand what it is we want them to do. Their latest comments will probably force us to go further.

Is it really so hard not to have a "what is your race" question on the form? Why is this so hard to understand?

Other than the fact that they spend my tax dollars, I don't care who goes to U of M. My kids will *never* attend. I don't want them to attend a diverse college. I want only the best for my kids.

The only person not calling for true equity is, well, you. Who's the racist? i think you need to look in the mirror and confront the racist you have to live with every day.

Discrimination and the Law
"...we should do nothing to counter the discrimination people of color are still facing today that makes them second class citizens in college admission standards."

Institutions that discriminate in violation of the law should be brought to justice. However, when we attemp to enforce discrimination laws by discriminating, instead of justice we end up with twice as much discrimination. We have made matters worse and distorted incentives for all parties.

The people of Michigan voted for more justice and less discrimination. To label the Michigan voters as "racist" is innaccurate and even slanderous.

Welcome back
missed ya

constitutional rights
with the exception of a couple of state constitutions, there is no constitutional right to a free education.

classic liberal
anyone who disagrees with me is a racist.

Also as a liberal, I can make any absurd claim I want without any evidence or argument to back it up, and everyone must accept my claims at face value, otherwise they have proven themselves to be racist.

Of Course White Racists Don't Want Their Kids Going To School with People Of Color
"I don't want them to attend a diverse college. I want only the best for my kids." Translation="I don't want my white racist children being exposed to multicultures and non-white people"......a perfect example of the "classic white racist"...

proved my point very well.

none of you racists admit there is no "level playing field"; you don't even address the subject, not a one of you.

The racist speaks
I agree with skwilinski to the point that i will send my kids to the best college they qualify to attend. I don't care about the racial makeup. It could be all black, all asian, all hispanic, all Native American or all white, that doesn't matter in this arena. It should be all about the education and getting the best and brightest to lead the way.

Your concern over a "Level playing field" shows your racist tendancies. If giving some advantage for being poor or coming from a certain socio-economic situation or area is taken into consideration, the playing field is level.

We have been told for 50 years that it isn't race that causes the problem with education, it is the fact that many minorities come from disadvantaged situations.

It's time to prove it!

If credit is given for those situations then, as has been pointed out, the playing field should be level.

Race shouldn't even be on the application.

Okay--you win!
So the playing field isn't level. How does allowing unqualified students to attend universities where some of them are completely overmatched level the field? It doesn't. Some schools (UC Berkely, for one, correct me if I'm wrong) were actually teaching READING courses several years ago. It is not the function of a University to teach High school. I attended a top 25 university for my Bachelors many years ago and the smartest kid I knew was a black guy who became a doctor. The place looked like the UN!! And every kid, black, white, yellow or whatever EARNED the right to be there. Because, at the end of the day, this is about academic qualifications. The diversity, and all that comes with it, you might call a fringe benefit. Make no mistake, all the cultural diversity and holistic evaluations in the world CANNOT help a freshman pass calculus and chemistry. For all of your politically correct whining, you have yet to put forth a workable solution to this problem.

Only 12% of Students Get into College Through Affirmative Action: So the White Panic Is Misplaced!!
Affirmative Action and the College Admissions Process

This article is an excerpt from 8 Steps to Help Black Families Pay For College by Thomas LaVeist, Ph.D. and Will LaVeist

Affirmative action: it's a pretty loaded phrase, isn't it? Chances are you can't read these words together without calling to mind a specific case or debate you've read about. We're not going to give you an extended treatise on what makes affirmative action good or bad—that's a conversation that could go on all night. What we will give you is an overview of how affirmative action affects you right here, right now—when you're applying for college and for financial aid.

"First of all, what is affirmative action? Like so many words and phrases, affirmative action has been tossed around pretty carelessly over the past few years, and its actual meaning has been blurred, if not lost altogether. Contrary to what you may have heard (contrary to what "They say . . ."!), affirmative action is not about quotas—that is, it's not meant to force schools or businesses into accepting or hiring a certain percentage of minorities or women. Instead, affirmative action is meant to level the playing field and ensure that schools and businesses are not intentionally discriminating against minority groups. Let's look at colleges as an example: Around 12 percent of all college students are black; if the student body at your college is only 1 percent black, it's likely that there is some discrimination at work. Now, this isn't always the case, of course—but it's the principle that affirmative action was built on. When discrimination is suspected, schools or businesses should make special efforts to reach new pools of minority applicants in an effort to diversify their staff or student body. Affirmative action is meant simply to help minorities overcome past discrimination and achieve a level of diversity that many people argue is essential in higher education.

Not white

Nice, and wrong
The major differential you are talking about depends on a lot of things. But, for the sake of arguement, lets stay with the "discrimination" charge and affirmative action.

If this school has only 1% then the reasons certainly should be looked into; but no action taken unless a case of actual discrimination is actually found.

That is not what happens.

Pressure is put on the college, or business, and the quickest way to alleviate the problem and end the pressure is quotas. Bring the student body up to 12 or 15% black. But what if they can't find enough applicants that are even close to academically qualified? Then you lower the standards, but only for one group. Technically, this is illegal; but it is done by assigning additional "points" to minorities and call it diversity. No matter how you do it, it ammounts to minimum quotas; that is how affirmative action works in reality.

For example, where I live, I would say the white population is 80% white, 11% Native American, 4% black, 3% Asian and 2% Hispanic. when you go to a lot of the smaller colleges the population doesn't necessarily reflect this. It is probably right at 75% white, 12% native American, 9% black and the rest a split between Asian, Hispanic and Middle-eastern. At the two larger Universities there is a bit more diversity.

So, should they try and import more Blacks, Hispanics and Asians while limiting the number of Native American and White students? Why? I would say the playing field is more than level as Native Americans are more than representative in the overall population. So are blacks and, probably, the rest. But they are not representative of the U.S. as a whole.

Also, should this apply then to athletic scholarships? Should 60% go to whites, 19% to Blacks, etc.? How abut the NFL, Major League Baseball and other professional sports. After all, we want it in other professions right?


Affirmative action is always a bad thing over all.

What about Graduation?
So these minority kids who get to go to UC Berkeley and UCLA thanks to holistic admissions, how do they do once they get to college? Are their graduation rates similar to their peers? Their grades?

No, they aren't. That's because they didn't have the chops for the place to begin with. This is also seen at my local magnet high school ( which recently saw a series of efforts to alter the admissions process to enroll more black and hispanic students.

In each case we are talking about kids who are being foisted into programs they can't handle in order to assuage the egos of their parents and publicity-seeking activists. I wonder how much more enjoyable and effective their educations would be if they were getting them from institutions designed to fit their needs.

I have a hard time worrying about the dearth of blacks and hispanics at top-tier schools when we have so many other educational options available, from trade schools to community colleges to lower-tier 4-year colleges and universities. As long as there is a system in place to serve those of us who aren't great students, then there is no real discrimination.

The Myth And Math of Affirmative Action: White Panic Proven Again To Be Baseless Racism
The Myth And Math of Affirmative Action

By Goodwin Liu
Sunday, April 14, 2002; Page B01

With the arrival of spring, thousands of high school and college seniors have been anxiously checking the mail for word from the nation's most prestigious universities. Although some envelopes are thick with good news, most are thin and disappointing. For many white applicants, the disappointment will become bitterness if they suspect the reason for their rejection was affirmative action. But such suspicions, in all likelihood, are misplaced.

Affirmative action is widely thought to be unfair because it benefits minority applicants at the expense of more deserving whites. Yet this perception tends to inflate the cost beyond its real proportions. While it is true that affirmative action gives minority applicants a significant boost in selective admissions, it is not true that most white applicants would fare better if elite schools eliminated the practice. Understanding why is crucial to separating fact from fiction in the national debate over affirmative action.
The Post's opinion and commentary section runs every Sunday.

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Any day now, a federal appeals court in Cincinnati will issue a decision in a major test lawsuit challenging the use of race as a factor in selective admissions. In that case, the University of Michigan denied admission in 1995 to a white undergraduate applicant named Jennifer Gratz. Charging reverse discrimination, Gratz said, "I knew of people accepted to Ann Arbor who were less qualified, and my first reaction when I was rejected was, 'Let's sue.' "

The Michigan case will likely end up at the Supreme Court. If it does, Gratz will try to follow in the footsteps of Allan Bakke, a rejected white applicant who won admission in 1978 to the University of California at Davis's medical school after convincing the high court that the school's policy of reserving 16 of 100 seats each year for minority students was unconstitutional. For many Americans, the success of Bakke's lawsuit has long highlighted what is unfair about affirmative action: Giving minority applicants a significant advantage causes deserving white applicants to lose out. But to draw such an inference in Bakke's case -- or in the case of the vast majority of rejected white applicants -- is to indulge in what I call "the causation fallacy."

There's no doubt, based on test scores and grades, that Bakke was a highly qualified applicant. Justice Lewis Powell, who authored the decisive opinion in the case, observed that Bakke's Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores placed him in the top tier of test-takers, whereas the average scores of the quota beneficiaries in 1974 placed them in the bottom third. Likewise, his science grade point average was 3.44 on a 4.0 scale, compared with a 2.42 average for the special admittees, and his overall GPA was similarly superior. Given these numbers, the only reason for Bakke's rejection was the school's need to make room for less qualified minority applicants, right?

Wrong. Although Justice Powell pointed out that minority applicants were admitted with grades and test scores much lower than Bakke's, he did not discuss what I found to be the most striking data that appeared in his opinion: Bakke's grades and scores were significantly higher than the average for the regular admittees. In other words, his academic qualifications were better than those of the majority of applicants admitted outside the racial quota. So why didn't he earn one of the 84 regular places?

It is clear that the medical school admitted students not only on the basis of grades and test scores, but on other factors relevant to the study and practice of medicine, such as compassion, communication skills and commitment to research. Justice Powell's opinion does not tell us exactly what qualities the regular admittees had that Bakke lacked. But it notes that the head of the admissions committee, who interviewed Bakke, found him "rather limited in his approach" to medical problems and thought he had "very definite opinions which were based more on his personal viewpoints than upon a study of the total problem."

Whatever Bakke's weaknesses were, there were several reasons, apart from affirmative action, that might have led the medical school to reject his application. Grades and test scores do not tell us the whole story.

Of course, affirmative action did lower Bakke's chance of admission. But by how much? One way to answer this question is to compare Bakke's chance of admission had he competed for all 100 seats in the class with his chance of admission competing for the 84 seats outside of the racial quota. To simplify, let's assume none of the special applicants would have been admitted ahead of any regular candidate.

In 1974, Bakke was one of 3,109 regular applicants to the medical school. With the racial quota, the average likelihood of admission for regular applicants was 2.7 percent (84 divided by 3,109). With no racial quota, the average likelihood of admission would have been 3.2 percent (100 divided by 3,109). So the quota increased the average likelihood of rejection from 96.8 percent to 97.3 percent.

To be sure, Bakke was not an average applicant. Only one-sixth of regular applicants (roughly 520) received an interview. But even among these highly qualified applicants, eliminating the racial quota would have increased the average rate of admission from 16 percent (84 divided by 520) to only 19 percent (100 divided by 520). Certainly a few more regular applicants would have been admitted were it not for affirmative action. But Bakke, upon receiving his rejection letter, had no reason to believe he would have been among the lucky few.

In fact, Bakke applied in both 1973 and 1974 and, according to evidence in the lawsuit, he did not even make the waiting list in either year.

The statistical pattern in Bakke's case is not an anomaly. It occurs in any selection process in which the applicants who do not benefit from affirmative action greatly outnumber those who do.

Recent research confirms this point. Using 1989 data from a representative sample of selective schools, former university presidents William Bowen and Derek Bok showed in their 1998 book, "The Shape of the River," that eliminating racial preferences would have increased the likelihood of admission for white undergraduate applicants from 25 percent to only 26.5 percent.

rest of article here:

More BS
Even the writer of this article can't ignore the facts; racial quotas, or any form of affirmative action, lower the acceptance rate of those not in the special class of applicants. This is completely unfair and, through non-discrimination laws, illegal.

Dress it up any way you want, affirmative action sucks.

But it's worst effect is to lower the esteem of those minorities who got in "on their own", without any special treatment. They must still labor under the affirmative action shadow and, though they know they earned and deserved the position they got, they often have trouble proving it, even to themselves. This is the real unfairness of affirmative action. This is especially true of those who managed to earn the grades, get the test scores and prove themselves, in spite of aattending lackluster high school on a bad neighborhood. All that work, and people still don't think the deserve to be in college; that really sucks!!

what is black, what is white, what is asian
All great comments about why judging folks by race is bad. Why it is bad for everyone, the judged and the judgee. My issue is how do we determine if someone is black or white. It is not like there is a DNA test. Are we seriously looking at "skin" tone. What about "ancestory". I recall that John Kerry's wife (Theresa) is of "african roots", though her skin color is definitely stark white. I might pass for white (my dad is of Arab roots), but my wife is from the Philippines, where do my children fit. Are they "white" or are they "Asian".

Better yet, who is going to make the determination. What is going to happen if a "clearly white person" were to check "black" on an application?? Are we seriously going to have a "lawsuit" with a judge making a decree of white or black??

How far back does one go to determine race? It is not like there are any records past a couple centuries. If you go back far enough, we are all from the same roots.

Good comments
That is a very interesting question. How do we determine race?

interesting how you declare that people of color are incabable of being part of the best
and yet you feel free to call the rest of us racist.

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