Poll: Policy at U-M unpopular

Most in state oppose using race in admissions

By Maryanne George

Detroit Free Press, February 7, 2003

An overwhelming majority of Michiganders — 63 to 27 percent — oppose the use of race in the University of Michigan’s admissions policy, but 57 percent support affirmative action for low-income students, a poll released Thursday shows.

Nearly two-thirds — 61 to 27 percent — also oppose affirmative-action policies for relatives of alumni, known as legacies, according to a poll of 500 likely voters conducted between Jan. 29 and Feb. 3 by EPIC/MRA of Lansing.

Men more than women oppose the use of race in admissions — 66 percent compared to 60 percent respectively, according to the poll. More than two-thirds of white people oppose the use of race, while a similar number of African Americans support it, the poll showed. The overall poll has a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points, but the error margin is smaller for results on smaller groups, such as African Americans.

The results of the poll are similar to a national poll by the Los Angeles Times also released Thursday. The two polls mirror results of a Free Press poll conducted by EPIC/MRA three years ago.

The poll released Thursday by EPIC/MRA was not done for any client.

The Times poll of 1,385 people between Jan. 30 and Feb. 2 found that 55 percent supported President George W. Bush’s opposition to U-M’s admissions policy.

Last month, U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson, on behalf of Bush, filed briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court opposing the U-M’s undergraduate and law school admissions policies, which he criticized as quotas.

The high court will hear oral arguments April 1 in two lawsuits filed in 1997 against U-M by three white students. The students claim they were denied admission in favor of less-qualified minorities.

U-M awards 20 points on a 150-point scale to minorities, low-income students, athletes and those who earn the points with the approval of the provost. Of the total, 110 points are awarded for academic factors. The 20 points have the effect of boosting an applicant’s chances the equivalent of a full grade point. Students with 100 points are usually admitted as undergraduates.

The results of the poll show people want a system of affirmative action that benefits all kinds of people, said Ed Sarpolus, EPIC/MRA vice president.

“The bottom line is that people are saying we don’t want a special treatment based on race,” Sarpolus said. “But they understand that everyone can benefit from a system based on income.”

U-M spokeswoman Julie Peterson said the Free Press and Times polls oversimplify the nuances of the admissions process.

“Determining the merit of an individual student is much more complex than just grades and test scores,” Peterson said. “We do not rely on public opinion polls to interpret the law.”

More than 200 organizations are expected to sign briefs supporting U-M and file them with the Supreme Court this month, Peterson said.

Twenty organizations filed briefs supporting the plaintiffs last month.

Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, a Washington D.C.-based law firm representing the three white students, said the new polls confirm earlier surveys.

“People realize using standards based on race is wrong, and now it turns out it’s highly unpopular,” Pell said. “The more people learn about what schools like Michigan really are doing, the more they are opposed to standards based on race.”