Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Who Sets The Quotas?

Not surprisingly, the assertion by an outside entity (the Center for Educational Opportunity) that the UW-Madison is admitting Blacks and Hispanics with lower qualifications than White and Asian kids is creating a medium-sized stir in the City of the Perpetually Offended.

And rightly so.

I’ve often wondered what sort of arcane formulations, algorithms, and weightings are used to decide who gets admitted to the big UW, and who doesn’t.  Both our kids got admitted (and graduated), when an awful lot of their friends at Madison’s LaFollette High who had credentials just as strong, did not get admitted.  I’ll always wonder how much my alumni status affected the decision.

Or was it the “political connections” my wife and I have that tipped the scale?  We are pretty well acquainted (as in invited-into-the-home-for-Saturday-night-dinner) with more than one of the UW Regents.  Or was it “media fame” – I was on a #1-rated morning radio program and my wife was on a #1-rated local TV news broadcast.

Regardless, both of our kids had the kind of academic credentials that would have gotten them accepted at just about any college or university in the nation.  But – so did several of their friends, who were not accepted.

What I’d like to know is who sets the quotas – who makes the rules – what sort of criteria are involved – and how much of a factor is race, in the UW admissions process.  To me there’s no question that it’s desirable to have some diversity on campus, and I’m a believer in affirmative action.  Growing up in Hortonville, the only black people I knew anything about played for the Packers or Braves.  My first personal experience with a black person was as a freshman in the dorms, and a young fellow from Milwaukee named Theophilus R. Hawkins.  Theo and I hit it off right away.  We were both big fellows, loved music and fast cars, and through Theo I got to meet a number of other young black kids and form solid friendships.

But that was back in the mid-60’s.  My kids grew up in Madison and have plenty of black and Hispanic friends – kids they’ve known since middle school, many of whom they still pal around with.  They didn’t need the freshman dorm experience to meet and get to know kids who don’t look like them.

I think it’s time to let a lot more sunshine into the admissions process at the UW.  If I were a black or Hispanic kid, I’d want to know that it wasn’t just “affirmative action” or some quota that got me accepted – that my hard work and academic record had more to do with it than some committee’s ideas about what diversity is.

Discussions about race are always difficult in Madison, but the one about admissions standards at the UW is one that needs to happen here, and in the rest of the state.

(The University of Wisconsin owns the copyright on the image above.)

1 comment:

  1. You took a moderate, informed stance on this issue, and one that makes a lot of sense. Ergo, you have just disqualified yourself from public office.

    I agree: simply say what the criteria are. I think the UW has to determine what their academic mission is, and how admissions further that. Diversity of experience and viewpoint is certainly as valid a criteria for a university as academic excellence, and you have to balance both.