Office of the President
Remarks to the Education Committee on the Admissions Policy
Kevin P. Reilly, President, University of Wisconsin System
February 8 , 2007
As Rebecca mentioned, the revised Freshman Admissions Policy first came before you at the December Regents’ meeting – the result of our efforts to consolidate and update five existing Regents’ policies related to admissions.
Based on questions and concerns expressed by legislators and others, the Board of Regents postponed action on the Admissions Policy at the December meeting, and undertook a transparent, open process over two months to engage the public in a conversation about this policy update.
Part of this process entailed personal briefings with legislative leaders and their staff. This included personal meetings with the chairs of the two legislative committees responsible for overseeing higher education.
The Public Forum
On Monday, Jan. 29, the Regents held a three-hour public forum about the admissions policy. Using our videoconferencing networks, we facilitated live interaction among participants at five locations:
- UW-Eau Claire
- UW-Green Bay
- UW-Stevens Point
The public forum was covered extensively in the news media around the state, indicating that citizens were well aware of this opportunity for input.
Ten Regents participated in the forum, at four of the five sites. All Regents have since had the opportunity to view the archived streaming video from the event.
We’ve provided a written summary of the comments offered by speakers at all five sites. These summaries include not only those remarks that were carried on the videoconference, but also a synopsis of the local discussion that followed with campus leaders and admissions officers. Among the comments we received:
- Senator Glenn Grothman participated from Milwaukee, expressing his concerns about any use of race and ethnicity.
- Along with Senator Grothman, four other speakers expressed similar concerns about the use of race and ethnicity. These included former Regent Fred Mohs and UW-Madison Professor Emeritus Lee Hansen.
- Many other speakers spoke in support of diversity and a race-conscious admissions policy. For example, Madison attorney Michelle Behnke explained how her son scored in the top 5% of all African Americans on his ACT, but did not get admitted to UW-Madison.
- Including Ms. Behnke, a total of 26 people spoke on the videoconference in support of this policy and the university’s strong commitment to diversity in our student body. These included student leaders, high-school counselors, parents, and university faculty members.
In advance of the public forum, we launched a special Web site – www.wisconsin.edu/admissions – where people could review the text of this policy, as well as related articles and materials. On the site, we posted links to:
- A detailed report from The College Board: “Selection Through Individualized Review”
- To Testimony by UW System Associate Vice President Larry Rubin and Assistant Vice President Vicki Washington, offered to the Wisconsin Legislative Council Special Committee on Affirmative Action.
- To Documents shared at that same committee by UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley and Admissions Director Rob Seltzer, and
- To Representative Steve Nass’ January 18 news release about our public forum.
At that same website, people were invited to send us their comments on the draft policy. We received approximately 50 comments and questions. These included e-mails generated from the website, plus various letters and telephone messages. Copies of every message are included in your packets.
Unlike the speakers at our public forum, the majority of e-mails and letters expressed concerns about the policy, but from several points of view. Not all are related to the use of race and ethnicity. Some address issues around applicants’ disabilities, “legacy” status, and in-state residency.
More than anything, it seems to me that these letters and e-mails reflect a great deal of anxiety and confusion around the whole college admissions process. It’s important to remember that such tension will always exist at our most competitive, selective campuses.
Misinformation about the Policy
Along with that understandable anxiety, many of the comments we have seen and heard expressed about this policy reflect an ongoing level of confusion. I’d like to address some of those misconceptions here:
Misconception #1. “The UW is full.” NOT TRUE! While it’s true that some of our 26 UW System campuses regularly turn away applicants, there is a place in our public university system for any motivated student who wants to pursue a college degree. Even if some can’t get admitted to the campus of their first choice as incoming freshmen, these Wisconsin students have ample opportunities to enroll somewhere in our system. And it’s not how you start that counts; it’s how you finish, and Wisconsin students have the opportunity to transfer to another UW campus of their choice, including our flagship institution, UW-Madison, after a semester or several semesters.
Misconception #2. “Unqualified students will be admitted.” First, it makes no sense for us to admit students who are likely to fail. Today, I can say that every student on our 26 campuses has been judged qualified to be there. That won’t change if you adopt this updated policy. The consideration of leadership, veteran’s status, race, socioeconomic status, work experience, or other factors is not a substitute for consideration of academic preparation. Rather, these are factors we examine when selecting students from a large pool of academically qualified applicants.
Misconception #3. “This is a race-based policy.” This policy is grounded in the best practices within higher education. If anything, it is a “success-based policy.” It ensures that students are selected based on their likelihood of individual success in the institution. This policy is no more a race-based policy than it is a veterans-status-based policy, or a work-experience-based policy. All of these factors, and more, are considered in a comprehensive review of individual students, but the admissions decision is not based on any one of these factors. The policy is designed to ensure that students will be prepared for success in the knowledge-economy workforce. And, it puts the state of Wisconsin on the path toward success in an increasingly competitive, diverse, global marketplace. As Rebecca mentioned, the policy clearly states that “Academic factors are the most important consideration in making admissions decisions.” They always have been. They always will be. Academics trump all other factors in the policy.
Misconception #4. “Out of state students are displacing Wisconsin students.” The policy clearly states that out-of-state undergraduate enrollments should not exceed 25% at any institution. This is not a change in the policy. Currently, approximately 78 percent of UW-Madison’s undergraduates are Wisconsin or Minnesota-reciprocity residents. At the other campuses, Wisconsin residents and Minnesota-reciprocity students comprise anywhere from 91 to 98 percent of the undergraduate population.
You have letters from Representative Nass and Senator Vinehout in your packets, and can discuss them in the committee meeting this afternoon… They fall out on different sides of the issue.
We’ve also received some recent communications from business leaders:
Bill Harvey, chairman, president and CEO of Alliant Energy Corporation, writes: “A diverse student body is not only important to the continued success of our public school system, but also to companies such as ours who rely heavily on those students for our future workforce.”
Paul La Schiazza, former president of SBC Wisconsin, now president of AT&T Illinois, writes in a letter to Chancellor John Wiley: “We realize that diversity and inclusion give our company a competitive edge – they are essential if we are to be successful in the marketplace” He goes on to say, “I would think that a University of Wisconsin Admissions Policy would include a diversity component for the same basic reasons that AT&T includes diversity and inclusion in its Business Plan.”
Andrew J. Smiltneek, Director of Innovation Management Implementation at Kimberly-Clark Corporation, writes: “We regard the diversity of our workforce and the knowledge to work in a diverse workforce as imperative to our survival in a very tough competitive global marketplace. Further, while we teach inclusion to our employees to maximize the performance of our organizations, we believe that it is the responsibility of our University partners to provide employees who already know the power of a diverse group and know how to work in this atmosphere. I wish I could state this more strongly.”
I’m recommending that you adopt this policy for many reasons, but let me enumerate the main points:
Academics come first. The policy stipulates a set of minimum requirements that all applicants must meet or exceed for consideration. Among the criteria used in making selections from among applicants, academic factors are the most important consideration in the admissions decision.
Academic performance and potential are best determined by a comprehensive review. No single numerical score is a reliable predictor. Grade-point average and standardized test scores are important factors, but they are not the only factors. Put another way, no student is a number, and every applicant deserves our full consideration as a whole person.
Diversity matters. The U.S. Supreme Court re-affirmed the educational benefits of a diverse student body, and the use of policies like this as a means to enhance universities’ educational mission. Our current policies – on the books for decades – value diversity, and include race as one factor among many. As the Supreme Court recognized, doing that is one way for us to accomplish our mission.
As you speak with people about this issue, and follow much of the press coverage, it seems clear that much of the attention to admissions – and this revised policy – is focused on the UW-Madison campus. With that in mind, I’d like to invite Chancellor John Wiley to say a few words … John…