The MichiganDaily - Friday, November 5, 1993 -3
The University of Michigan's
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Object of the game: Get past admissions without being or going crazy
By DAVID SHEPARDSON
DAILY STAFF REPORTER
When a visitor roams through the base-
*nt of the Student Activities Building, the
thick smell of printer's ink permeates the air,
even though no printing is done here. Stacks
of forms, applications and University propa-
ganda clutter the mail room. And thousands
of sealed envelopes sit in trays waiting to be
Hundreds of employees - many of them
students - quickly process students' fates,
sending them responses or forwarding appli-
*ions for further review. Some envelopes
are razor thin, becoming transparent when
held up to the light, signifying deferment.
Others bulge, replete with glossy brochures,
housing information and a "personalized" let-
ter of congratulations.
But recently the University decided to
slow this whirling process down to require a
bit more reflection.
The University's admissions office has
W un a policy of reading all entrance essays
'automatically admitted students"-5,500
each year - which previously went unread.
The intent: to prevent the admission of stu-
dents with psychological problems or crimi-
nal records on the basis of "unique or note-
While the policy is not a major change -
and as University officials point out, some
colleges have similar policies - it does high-
liht the clandestine nature of the admissions
icy. Moreover, the cold reality is that for
years most essays have been routinely ig-
nored by data entry clerks making around $5
per hour and intent on admitting as many
students per hour as possible.
But that is part of the assembly-line pro-
cess of much of the University's admissions
process: work-study students, data entry clerks
and admissions officers deal with 19,000 ap-
plications, thousands of campus interviews,
Jormational meetings, phone calls and let-
s. They even receive maize-and-blue-col-
ored balloons, home-baked cookies, candy
and even video tapes from students. (Admis-
sions counselors eat the cookies, but say even
chocolate chip ones do not sway their deci-
In order to accomplish the goals of greater
diversity in the University - this year is
expected to be a record one for enrollment of
under-represented minority students - and
*ping the percentage of out of state students
to only 30 percent, as required by the state
legislature, much more care is given to these
In a Sept. 24 memo entitled "Essay Read-
ing," to all counselors, clerks, and admissions
officers, Admissions Dean Theodore Spencer
instituted a new policy of reading all applica-
"Provost (and Vice President for Aca-
jn ic Affairs Gilbert) Whitaker wants a read-
i g (of all essays) to spot any comments
which might suggest the student might present
a problem for the University community," the
Many news organizations, including the
Chronicle For Higher Education, have misun-
counselors will have
more work to do.
However, it is clear that
we need to review each
essay to personalize the
process on behalf of the
derstood the intent of the memo, said Univer-
sity Vice President for University Relations
"This is not an attempt to deny admission
to those with certain points of view. ... Given
the rich tradition of radicalism at the Univer-
sity, we would never deny admission to say,
potential Marxists," Harrison said.
At a meeting last year, Harrison says,
Whitaker asked Spencer to have counselors
read all applications. Harrison and Spencer
say they do not know of specific reasons that
triggered this decision. To date no formal
announcement of this policy had been made
Explicit or not, the memo opens the door
for greater flexibility in denying admission on
the basis of non-academic reasons. Harrison
says students with criminal records should
not be admitted to the University. And at
some point in the future, this policy could be
extended to other non-academic criteria, like
evidence of extreme intolerance or overt rac-
ism, says an admissions counselor who spoke
on the condition of anonymity.
In an interview with Spencer, he disputes
this conclusion and denies any allegation that
the University would use this memo to deny
admission to racist or sexist students.
He recalls reading many essays as dean
and as a member of the Commission on Presi-
dential Scholarships that were "clearly rac-
But most times it is not that simple. Appli-
cations that might appear insensitive or re-
flective of an intolerant past must be judged
carefully, Spencer says. He remembers one
admitted white studet's essay detailing a
racist experience on a golf course. Playing
golf with two of his friends, they saw several
Blacks playing golf and one of them said
"Let's hit them (with golf balls.)" The student
used this experience to highlight his intoler-
ant background and describe his change in
"We do admit students that have attitudes
that could be considered racist or sexist,"
With regards to criminal records, he de-
flects criticism saying "there's no policy,"
and a criminal record is merely one factor of
many in making admission decisions.
Elsa Cole, University general counsel, says
the policy is consistent with the broad latitude
courts have given to public universities to set
"The courts have recognized that univer-
sities have the exclusive right to decide ad-
mission standards, as long as they don't dis-
criminate against students, violating any fed-
eral or state law," she said.
Brenda Bove, a staff lawyer in the Michi-
gan chapter of the American Civil Liberties
Union says the practice of denying admission
of students with criminal records, "is under
The ACLU is working with a convicted
felon who tried to enter Grand Valley State
University, she said. It is "not clear" whether
this is a violation of state law.
RIG TEN S( HOOLS TAKING
A DIFFRENI TA1
A survey of Big Ten university admission
directors shows few other schools have the
latitude the University is employing in deny-
ing students admission for non-academic rea-
At Michigan State University, even con-
victed felons are routinely admitted. The only
restriction is the "currently incarcerated,"
cannot be admitted, says an admissions direc-
In a telephone interview, Pete Storey, ad-
missions director at the University of Wis-
consin-Madison, said "psychological prob-
lems" are difficult to ascertain, and ques-
tioned whether alleged evidence of such prob-
lems could constitute a legitimate reason for
"We have nothing remotely comparable
to Michigan," he said, adding that students are
not required to submit an essay and that no
student is asked whether they have a criminal
Spencer says his office is looking for the
Jay Basten, acting assistant undergraduate admissions director, reviews one of nearly 300 essays he has read this fall yesterday.
A new policy for reviewing undergraduate applications could deny
admission to qualified students on the basis of essay content
obvious. "If a student writes in his essay,
saying 'I'm going to commit suicide,' and it
later came out we would be in trouble."
At Ohio State University, Gayle
Steppenhouse, an admissions officer, said
there was great controversy on campus when
his office considered denying admission to a
HOW TH E PROCESS AT
Currently, about 5,500 in-state and non-
minority students are automatically admitted,
that is, accepted solely on the basis of a
formula based on grades and test scores within
a month of submission. The process, as in
previous years, is as follows:
A student's 10th and 11th grade aca-
demic grades, excluding gym, music and the
like, are recomputed. This is done because
some high schools count 9th grade as part of
The University adds or subtracts from
that new grade point on the basis of an aca-
demic ranking of the high school, number of
students going on to college, courses offered
and AP classes taught. In addition, one grade
point is added for honors or AP scores. That
number is added to the student's ACT or SAT
If the number is above a certain level-
about 3.6 on a 4.0 scale and 1200 SAT or 28
ACT - a big "A" is marked on the applica-
tion by a file clerk and the student is sent a
letter of acceptance.
For the first time, the process has been
revised to include the following steps:
If nothing "unique or noteworthy is
found," the counselor dates and initials the
big "A" and sends the application to be filed
and a letter of acceptance is mailed.
® If the counselor finds unique accom-
plishments, he makes a copy of the essay and
files it in a personal folder labeled "Unique
Essays," for later reference.
If the counselor finds evidence of psy-
chological problems or severe criminal of-
fenses, he refers the matter to the dean of
Students with grades and test scores that
write even an extremely poor essay will still
probably be admitted, Spencer said.
"In the past, we've had students re-write
essays that were incomprehensible," he said.
Spencer also said a badly written essay would
begin additional inquiries to the student's
high school. One infamous inquiry resulted in
uncovering a student's attempt to submit an-
other student's transcript, he said.
FINDING "UNIQUE "
ESSAYS FOR OFFICIALS
In the memo, President James Duderstadt's
staff requests anecdotal information about
students from specific geographical areas. He
will include this in his comments, to "person-
alize" his visit to that community.
Duderstadt makes about 20 visits each
year to high schools alone, Spencer said.
"This will allow him to talk to students about
what classmates are doing, and their experi-
ences at the University.
"Before, when he or anyone else has wanted
this information, we've had to search for it.
This will facilitate the program better."
(HANGAES IN P R(OCE D U RE'
For the honors program, non-minority stu-
dents will for the first time be automatically
admitted to the honors program with a GPA of
4.0, an SAT score of 1400 or more, or an ACT
score of 33 or more. This process of automatic
admission has been in place for minority
students for the past three years.
Honors will be reading 500 essays, thus
relieving LSA counselors of some of the bur-
den. Spencer said for the first time in many
years the admissions program is at full em-
About 25 full-time counselors currently
work in the office. Each counselor is assigned
an area of the country. Senior staffers, includ-
ing Marilyn McKinney, Sheryl Fletcher, Rob
Seltzer and Spencer are assigned parts of the
country to solely recruit. Spencer, for ex-
ample, has California.
Liina Wallin, the associate director of the
Honors program, who will be overseeing the
reading of the 500 honors essays is skeptical
about the effectiveness of this mandate and is
one of only a few University officials willing
to publicly criticize the new policy.
"It won't work. Admissions essays simply
aren't written with evidence of these prob-
lems," Wallin said. "I don't really know what
is to be gleaned from a close reading of the
But counselors, spending only ten minutes
per essay, will have to spend 835 additional
hours reading essays. More students have
been hired to assume responsibilities previ-
ously done by counselors, like answering
phones and doing campus tours. But in the
beginning, counselors have been burdened by
this new responsibility.
"We understand counselors will have more
work to do to review the "automatic admit"
application essays," Spencer said. "However,
it is clear that we need to review each essay to
personalize the application review process on
behalf of the University."
It is personalizing that is critical. "Stu-
dents who have written essays should have
them read," he said. One reason the Univer-
sity requires an essay, unlike most Big Ten
universities, is that some students associate
essay-writing with highly selective schools.
Currently, about 50 to 60 part-time stu-
dents work in the office. Spencer said, the
number of employees the University's admis-
sions office has is "about average" for Big
For the Residential College, admissions
counselor Alita Mitchell will review all appli-
cations for psychological problems and crimi-
nal records. Mitchell declined to comment on
the status of her reviews of applications.
Much the same work goes on in the mail
room and in the offices of the admissions
office this fall. And the policy that was not to
be released may not prevent students from
being denied admission -but it is a warning
shot across the bow.
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