Freshman admissions at campuses across the state will soon undergo changes as the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents voted unanimously Friday to alter policies to include race in a highly controversial plan to diversify student populations.
Friday’s adopted policy still cites academics as “the most important consideration in making admissions decisions.” However, “whether the applicant is socio-economically disadvantaged, and whether the applicant is a member of an historically underrepresented racial or ethnic group,” rounds out the list of criteria.
The plan, already in practice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is one example of what schools deem “holistic admissions.” Instead of basing admissions decisions purely on academic performance in high school—GPA, ACT results, etc.—all admissions practices at Wisconsin universities will look at the student as a whole: race, economic background, athletic ability and veteran status, for example.
Despite the far-reaching implications feared by students and lawmakers across the state, Chancellor Martha Saunders said in an e-mail, “The new policy will have very little impact on the way we do business [at UW-Whitewater].”
“While I understand the desire of those in the UW System wanting to increase diversity in the student population, it is an ill-advised and possibly illegal approach to utilize race and ethnicity as criteria for admissions,” [State Rep. Steve] Nass [(R-Whitewater)] Nass said in a Feb. 5 letter to Board of Regents President David Walsh.
The legality to which Nass is referring is in regards to a Wisconsin State Statute that says no student should be subject to any test of their race for admission to a Wisconsin university.
In the same letter to Walsh, Nass, chairman of the Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee, recommended that the race factor be removed and that the Regents clearly define “socio-economically disadvantaged” and require applicants to supply information concerning their family’s income and wealth.
McAdams also said, “. . . the [U.S. Supreme] court held that colleges could evaluate applicants in a ‘holistic’ manner, and that racial preferences would be acceptable in that context.”
UW-Madison soon adopted a similar practice, and until the Regents’ ruling has been the only UW school to consider race in admissions.