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Posted on Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 1 p.m.

Affirmative action, Jennifer Gratz back in the news

By Juliana Keeping

Affirmative action and Jennifer Gratz are back in the news.

Gratz applied for admission to the University of Michigan, was rejected, and sued the school in 1997. Paired with a similar case against the University of Michigan Law School, her case made its way to the Supreme Court in 2003.

This week, NPR explored how far affirmative action has come.


Jennifer Gratz has been at the center of a national debate on affirmative action since she was one of two plaintiffs to sue U-M over its admissions policies in 1997.

Columnists at the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times recently explored affirmative action as it relates to white racial anxiety.

"I believe that white racial anxiety, not immigration, will be the most significant and potentially dangerous socio-demographic trend of the coming decade...." Los Angeles Times columnist Gregory Rodriguez wrote in "Affirmative action's time is up." "...I am so convinced of this that I think to avoid a destructive white backlash in the face of a rapidly diversifying society, the president should call for an end to affirmative action."

The 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upheld the U-M Law School's affirmative action policy that offers an advantage to minorities. In a separate case, the justices struck down the points system in undergraduate admissions at U-M, which had awarded 20 points for African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans on an admissions ratings scale.

"There were rumors in high school that the University of Michigan used race in their admissions policy," Gratz was quoted on NPR as saying. "I remember hearing that and thinking, 'There's no way — that can't be true.' "

Michigan, California and Washington have passed bans on affirmative action in the admissions process at public institutions, while Texas has a court-imposed ban.

Read and listen to the news reports, take our poll and tell us what you think in the comments section below.

Juliana Keeping is a higher education reporter for Reach her at or 734-623-2528. Follow Juliana Keeping on Twitter


Roocifer Smith

Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 3:21 a.m.

Good Lord. I know this is old news, but I hope you guys aren't from Michigan. It would just reinforce the lack of critical thinking that went on there. I was there during her case. I was there when professors would stop the 300+ person lectures to pass around petitions, waiting and staring at every single student while they obliging signed their names. I was there when the administration said they would fight to the end...let me emphasize that last point. A public institution funded by tax dollars (and outrageous tuition) was saying a preemptive f-you to one of the three branches of government. If any of the detractors knew anything about logic, they would know that it makes no difference whatsoever which admissions policies she chose to dispute. Each one is right or wrong completely on their own. And one is under no obligation to fight all when they fight one. That's like saying I can't sue the guy without insurance who T-boned me unless I sue all of the people have driven without insurance. Or, we can't punish one murderer without punishing all murderers. The fact that a legacy policy is also wrong is irrelevant. I agree that legacy policies are wrong; I also know that it has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with whether or not racial policies of admittance are wrong. Only personal achievement should be considered. White insecurity and resentment? Is that it? Can't someone possibly disagree with you or your opinions without being flawed on a personal level? So much for diversity. Can't say I'm surprised. Michigan, like many of the people here, was only capable of viewing "diversity" in terms of skin color. What's that word for when you judge a person because of the color of their skin? Oh yeah, bigotry...and, if you want to play fast as loose with the language, racism. Well, congratulations. You have (inadvertently) uncovered bigotry and, for the hysterical out there, racism. Now go look in the mirror and smack yourself in the face.


Sat, Oct 23, 2010 : 7:53 p.m.

One point of clarification regarding the point system that used to be used in undergraduate admissions: from what I understand the maximum points that you could get under "misc." (including race) was 20; i.e. you couldn't get 20 points for your race and another 20 points for being a scholarship athlete. I went to grad school at Michigan, not undergrad; graduate admission is a whole other thing. In my department (I'm not saying what that was!), the year that I got in one's GRE score was THE most important criterion in admission (and it was a bad year for racial minorities); the following year, THE most important criterion was where you went for undergrad, so we ended up with a lot of Ivy League grads, many of whom had been the beneficiaries of race-based affirmative action at their colleges (unless we want to pretend that no one every really gets in through affirmative action... see my next paragraph). I would not have gotten in that year, as my undergrad institution was NOT prestigious. (Lucky for me that I test well and applied the year i did.) I remember having a discussion with a fellow grad student about affirmative action after we watched a news program (20/20 or something like that) that showed an African-American girl getting admitted into every college she applied while her white classmates with the same (or in some cases better) grades and test scores were rejected from the same places. My fellow grad student was horrified at the suggestion that this girl was benefitting from affirmative action. I thought her reaction was absurd; affirmative action is SUPPOSED to have beneficiaries, otherwise what is the point? (If it's not working, i.e. if no one ever really gets IN through it, then why not get rid of it? And if it IS working and some people are benefitting from it, then why is it not OK to suggest that that's the case?) All this probably makes it sound like I am against race-based affirmative action. Actually, I'm not, although I AM ambivalent about it. My own background is very working-class; I had to pay my own way through undergrad by working full-time the whole time while going to school full-time at night. (It sucked, to use my students' language.) One thing that frustrated me at Michigan is that many if not most of the beneficiaries of race-based affirmative action (at least in grad school) were from middle- or upper-class backgrounds, yet they were on fellowships because they were racial minorities, while the fellowships that were NOT race-based virtually all went to WHITE students from upper-class backgrounds. Students from working-class (or lower) backgrounds who had actually made it to Michigan were basically left out and had to be GSIs (i.e., TAs) for most of their years (not that I'm complaining -- I actually discovered that I loved teaching). My point is that there was very little class diversity at Michigan, at least in the graduate programs. (And as for the "SES-disadvantage" points that apparently some undergrad applicants got, as far as I know there was no such thing at the graduate level.) Sorry for the long-winded post. I loved my years at U. of M. but was also frustrated beyond belief at the complete lack of attention to issues of social class.


Fri, Aug 20, 2010 : 9:56 a.m.

According to the UM Alumni Association: How much does parents alumni status count? The Michigan Response: You get a modest boost if your parents are alumni. Parents get the most weight, but grandparents and siblings also count. Top 50 US Colleges, Range of Responses: The policy of it helps a little, but cant overcome a mediocre academic record is standard at most top U.S. colleges. If many other colleges and universities provide "legacy" consideration when evaluating applications, what's the problem? Legacy points are not guarantees and plenty of highly competitive institutions (including Michigan) have no problem turning down a legacy applicant who doesn't otherwise make the grade. Besides, it makes for good donor relations...


Thu, Aug 19, 2010 : 1:52 p.m.

@Mike from Saline: I shall have to try to temper my factualness in the future...thanks for the reproof. Looks like you're still waiting for Briegle, or any of his apologists, to pick up the gauntlet and prove your discrimination. I expect you'll probably be waiting a long time. Nice job, too, pointing out how our adversaries love to trot out the "Palin" and "Fox News talking points" ponies when they're grasping. It is a form of changing the subject. It's also a sign of weakness. If they can defeat the argument based on the present discussion, why don't they just do it? What do Palin or Fox have to do with it? Did you mention MSNBC, CNN, ABC, CBS, or Joe Biden? No, neither did I. This fixation they have with Palin, a woman who has no political position, no influence over policy of any kind, is nothing short of amazing. They go apoplectic over her! If she's so stupid, why are they so fixated on her? Remember what the Irish guy says about changing the subject in Braveheart? I love that line.

mike from saline

Thu, Aug 19, 2010 : 12:25 p.m.

@ scylding, Dude!! stop it!! Don't confuse the people with facts! It's not nice. accept your guilt, and less move on. Jeniffer Gratz for Governor in 2014.


Wed, Aug 18, 2010 : 5:01 p.m.

@Racerx: Well, Ill give you one thing, your response cleared the air, alright. In one fell swoop, you assumed my race (I never mentioned it), ascribed a bunch of bad motives to me that you attach to that race (racial stereotyping), and attempted to exonerate (of their racism) a number people who have said and/or done blatantly racist things, things which I shall demonstrate. You appear to have done this solely based on the color of their skin. I think the air is pretty clear, now, regarding which of us is judging things based on race, and acting out of racial identity, more than the other. The animus in your Ill gloat when you can begin to walk in my shoes pretty much speaks for itself. I dont gloat when anyone undergoes injustice based on their race, and I honestly never have. I think it is unfortunate for you that your response largely takes a tack in which anything short of lynching and selling people into slavery is not deemed racism. Based on that, you just destroyed your own argument promoting the awarding of points to minorities for admission to the U of M, since neither lynching nor slave-trading happens anymore (non racially-motivated human trafficking aside). Even though you have pretty much dealt your argument a death blow, however, I will still respond to the rest of it. You say that Shirley Sherrod was exonerated. That became a common narrative as the story developed, but that doesnt mean it is actually true. And who said I was just talking about Shirley? I said the Sherrods. What about her husband, Charles? First Shirley. Late in the longer version of the video that got her into trouble (yes, I watched the whole thing) she speaks about a black family, two cousins from which (from up North) were trying to sell off a 515 acre, black-owned farm. She talks about getting involved, getting some white lawyers on the case, and saving the farm; all of it, that is, but 62 acres. Rolling her eyes and with an indignant tone, she comments on these 62 acres: They already have a white man lined up to buy it. The crowd obligingly groans in disapproval at this. And its the land on the creek, which is what he wanted, she went on to say. Note, these events were coterminous with the speech itself, which was in March of this year. This isnt decades ago. She is clearly upset that a white man was successful in buying that land. She obviously would have been fine with it if he had been black. Thats not racism? Im sorry, Breitbart was right; she has not gotten over the white versus black thing, despite what she says to the contrary. The video of Charles Sherrod saying the following is all over the place: Finally, we must stop the white man and his uncle t_ms from stealin our elections. We must not be afraid to vote black. Switch the words white and black in that sentence, and come up with an equivalent for the racially hateful term uncle t_ms and you will hear how racist that statement is. You say: Though both Rev. Wright and Jesse Jackson may have made inflammatory remarks, I never seen either of their organizationsdiscriminate towards people sorely based on their race (your typo). First of all, I didnt mention their organizations, I was talking about them personally. Their remarks have been far more than just inflammatory, they have been racist and do indeed discriminate towards people solely based on their race, as you say. Jackson made the H__ie Town comment in 1984, and it wasnt his only anti-Semitic statement. His relationship with the Jewish community has never recovered. Wright, for his part, when he was asked if he had been able to talk to the president, said this to the Daily Press: Them Jews aint going to let him talk to me. No discrimination or racism there! Do you really expect people to believe that Fox invented Samir Shabbaz, the New Black Panther Philadelphia leader? If they had, do you actually think that the Justice Department would have simply dropped the case? Theyd be on Fox like a royal hunting party. My point in my first comment was this. Before I commented, you had been defending affirmative action because you saw it as the only extant means to overcome the kind of racism that you have been encountering, and you stated that as long as we have people in this world who continue to think they're better simply based on their skin tone, then this problem will never go away. I saw, and still see, that same mindset in a number of black leaders who continue to have broad support, and/or have not been sufficiently condemned. I mentioned a few of them to you so that you would have to think about that. I have just proven that that behavior is indeed taking place among the leaders I mentioned, leaders you defended or candy-coated in your response. That, Im sorry to say, is the kind of hypocrisy that will continue to disallow real progress in this area.


Tue, Aug 17, 2010 : 12:26 p.m.

Until we "BLACK'S" RECEIVE THE PROMISES AFTER SLAVERY,Affirmative Action should stay in place.

mike from saline

Tue, Aug 17, 2010 : 11:59 a.m.

Briegle. Jennifer Gratz took on the entire political establishment [both party's], the entire buisness com- munity, both Detroit news papers, B.A.M.N., and the rest of the race-based social engineering crowd, and WON! She was able to do this with 1/10th of the money spent by the opponents of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative. Why in the world would this young lady need Sarah Palin's Palin's help? Look's to me like she could do just fine on her own! My question is, why did you bring up Sarah Palin? I've never, EVER, mentioned her in any comments I've posted, on any subject....period. Another red-herring Briegle? Another lame attempt [like John Q] to change the subject? Does it get hard to wash that smell of fish of your hands? You also wrote: "Mike and so many others are in favor of discrimination. As long as it is in favor of the privileged white people. This unfounded PERSONEL attack is based of course, on nothing I've ever said, or any comments I've ever posted. If you have evidence to refute what I just wrote, please provide an example [or examples]. I'm inviting everyone on this thread [I cerainly don't expect Briegle to provide anything]to do this.


Tue, Aug 17, 2010 : 9:27 a.m.

It never ceases to amaze me how some people can't grasp that 20 is a multiple of 4. Alumni also frequently donate large sums of money so encouraging family loyalty to the university has practical implications. I think that 4 points is pushing it but it's 1/5th the amount that was given for politically preferred melanin levels. Athletes who are generally enrolled as "Communications" majors tend not to compete for admissions slots with law students. What amuses me to no end is that Asians had been so heavily discriminated against that the main upshot of ending AA was to replace politically favored minorities with Chinese and Indians and do not much at all for white enrollment. The blacks who do get in are very often recent immigrants. Nice people, to be certain, but I'm not sure what the public policy case is for giving them a free 20 point boost on their university admissions score. Then there's the problem with graduation rates being lower when you pretend that students know more than they do...


Tue, Aug 17, 2010 : 9:07 a.m.

I object to the poll, personnally. You say in general that affirmative action to be abolished and yet this is an article that only pertains to the U of M. We are FAR from being an integrated society, you only need to look at the difference of racial populations from Detroit to Livonia to see this (Heck, just compare Ann Arbor to Ypsi!) Answer why people of color don't get the same treatment in urban centers the same as what whites get in the suburbs then tell me that Affirmative action isn't needed for higher education. White flight is still going on. This needs to END. NOW.


Tue, Aug 17, 2010 : 5:06 a.m.

@scylding-lets clear the air, when I spoke of people thinking theyre better, it was meant in the form of racism. I never recall any of those you mentioned (Reverend Wright, Sherrods, Jesse Jackson and the new Black Panther party) ever lynching people, selling them into slavery or any of the other horrific acts beset upon African Americans in the United States, sorely based on their skin color. And, to further you Fox News talking points, Mrs. Sherrods was vindicated by the full video apparently of which you missed, the New Black Panther Party is again, made up news by Fox. Though both Rev. Wright and Jesse Jackson may have made inflammatory remarks, I never seen either of their organizations (Rev. Wrights church or the Rainbow Coalition) discriminate towards people sorely based on their race. Gee, it is a shame that you not that smart to understand the difference how institutional racism effects those involved and how it has shaped our country. However, as most census numbers show, whites will be the minority by 2050 so Ill gloat then when you can begin to walk in my shoes.


Tue, Aug 17, 2010 : 2:27 a.m.

@Racerx: you said "as long as we have people in this world who continue to think they're better simply based on their skin tone, then this problem will never go away." Oh, like Reverend Wright, the Sherrods, Jessie H-town Jackson, and the New Black Panther party?


Tue, Aug 17, 2010 : 12:20 a.m.

@JohnQ-simply because it wasn't directed at people of color. The UM has never had 10% of African American enrollment. Even after the BAM sit-in's during the 70's, which former UM president Fleming strived to make it a goal of his. @AMOC-is it any less poisonous to have to deal with the simple fact that you'll always be an outsider simply because of your skin color? Trust me, it's worst than being a female. People will always see color first, and people tend to hire and promote people who look like them, i.e. corporate america, congress, until Obama, presidents! But that's a stretch. Point being, racism is alive and well today, yesterday and will be tomorrow. At least affirmative action attempted to bridge this gap, and has been successful. Yes, another alternative is needed, however, as long as we have people in this world who continue to think they're better simply based on their skin tone, then this problem will never go away.


Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 11:26 p.m.

AMOC you took the words right out of my mouth. nothing could be more poisonous than discrimination based on race or sex. UM needs to end its affirmative action policy. If they want to have a race-neutral poverty measurement, I could suppor that. There are more poor white people than poor black people, so those who can only see skin color would protest


Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 11:17 p.m.

Jennifer Gratz didn't seem to care about the hefty 20 points for elite athletes. Her legal team opted to feed off white insecurity and resentment rather than challenge a policy of special treatment that benefits the athletic department.

John Q

Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 9:51 p.m.

"Was Ms Gratz a legacy candidate? If not, why bring it up? They can do away with the legacy advantage, for all I care. Now, does that make you feel better?" Nice job missing the point completely. Ms. Gratz was not a legacy candidate. If she had been, she might have made the cut. But Ms. Gratz never campaigned against those who got into U-M on a completely arbitrary basis of having had the good luck to have been the child or grandchild of a U-M grad. The legacy preferences should have been as suspect in Ms. Gratz eyes as racial and related preferences. But she never took them on. That gives you some insight into her motivations.


Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 8:32 p.m.

20 points - scholarship athlete! 20 points - socio-economic disadvantage! Woah! What about something like this instead: 20 points - Academically Inclined? Oh, wait, that doesn't raise enough money...

Jay Thomas

Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 8:04 p.m.

So basically if you are a poor "underrepresented" minority you get 40 points right off the bat. The equivalent of 3.5 perfect SAT scores (at 12 points according to EyeheartA2). I guess some kids better start practicing their essay writing...


Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 7:32 p.m.

I am a female engineer and an alumna of the UM Graduate School of Business, class of '85. I am also a taxpayer in the state of Michigan and have been since 1975. The only thing affirmative action has ever done for me is provide ammunition to people who wanted to snipe at me for being a female in male-dominated professions and industries. It is poisonous to have to deal continuously with many colleagues who think your position was given because of the color of your skin or the shape of your body, rather than being earned by talent and effort. This is the legacy of the past 30 years of affirmative action, and it creates a poisonous atmosphere in which to study or work. It is far past time that we end discrimination based on race or gender in our public educational institutions nation-wide. I'm even extremely dubious of the practice of giving advantage in admissions to candidates who provide "socio-economic diversity". Let's make admission to our public educational institutions (and to civil service jobs at the city, state and federal levels) be as objectively merit- and talent-based as possible. Then let the financial aid packages offered to the candidates admitted reflect the value a school places on "diversity".

David Briegel

Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 7:25 p.m.

Mike and so many others are in favor of discrimination. As long as it is in favor of the privileged White people! Maybe Jennifer could get Sarah Palin to come and enlighten us mere mortals.


Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 5:12 p.m.

As to legacy and how it is reflected in past discrimination: Some of this is disguised by no longer tracking put-upon ethnic groups. In the not-too-distant past, UM discriminated against Jews, particularly in Medicine and Engineering, and (less openly) Italians and Poles. Legacy also works against the children of immigrants. The group most under-represented relative to straight scholastic merit is Asian-Americans.

mike from saline

Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 4:32 p.m.

I wish Jennifer Gratz had been a candidate for Governor. She showed more courage in here fight against racial discrimination, than anyone in the State of Michigan, in my lifetime. Considering how lame the Michigan Republican Party has become in the last decade, and how pathetic there current candidate's were this year, you'd think they might have shown some interest in this inteligent, attractive, vibrant, and articulate young lady. It would have been great to see her go up against the bully-boy from Lansing!

Elizabeth Nelson

Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 4 p.m.

If it's true that U of M better at attracting minorities but not as good at attracting economically disadvantaged, that's a shame. Any situation like this is difficult when it looks like a group is getting undeserved benefit. It's worth remembering how much the wealthy have historically enjoyed a HUGE admission advantage at the college level. My dad went to Yale in the early 1950s when there were MANY blueblood not-so-academic people there. It drove him bananas, because he had worked very hard to get there and had no special connections to 'boost' his admission. He told me one story about a classmate-- Richard Mellon Scaife (famous in recent years for funding the Whitewater investigation that led to the Lewinsky scandal)-- who had so much money that he actually bought his way out of expulsion a couple times. Eventually he went too far, my dad remembers Scaife doing something incredible like throwing a keg down a stairwell and finally he WAS kicked out. Right now we obviously have a terrible situation of low quality public schools in poorer areas, we have to figure out how to 'fix' that unless we want a permanent underclass. Smart kids with potential need to have opportunities to achieve no matter where they come from (or what color they are).

mike from saline

Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 3:20 p.m.

John Q, Desperate to change the subject, are you not? Was Ms Gratz a legacy candidate? If not, why bring it up? They can do away with the legacy advantage, for all I care. Now, does that make you feel better?

John Q

Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 2:39 p.m.

Thank you for cherry-picking EyeHeartA2. Being the child of an U-M grad is worth more in admissions scoring than many other meritorious distinctions. It has zero basis on one's individuality and everything to do with what group you belong to, which makes it no different than the arguments made against race-based preferences. For borderline candidates, like Ms. Gratz, it's the trump card between being admitted or not.


Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 1:56 p.m.

to learn more about the jennifer gratz and ward connerly mission go to this link:


Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 1:14 p.m.

A national survey gave the U of M a high grade for recruitment of African-Americans. It gave it a low grade for dealing with the economically disadvantaged. With the high tuition, more emphasis is needed on the latter problem.

John Q

Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 12:50 p.m.

I'm still waiting for Ms. Gratz to lead the crusade against the legacy preferences in admissions that favor the children and grandchildren of U-M graduates over those who did not. Why are those preferences any more legitimate than the ones she railed against?