Wisconsin’s attorney general has issued an informal legal opinion to state legislators concluding that a race-conscious freshman-admissions policy adopted by the University of Wisconsin’s Board of Regents for the entire university system does not conflict with a state law intended to prevent the system’s campuses from engaging in discrimination.
Soon after the board adopted the policy, in February, 15 state representatives and four state senators sent Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen a letter challenging the legality of the policy, which calls for system campuses to consider race and ethnicity as part of a comprehensive review of applicants. Specifically, their letter alleged that the new policy conflicted with a 1973 law prohibiting the system from making admissions decisions using “sectarian or partisan tests or any tests based upon race, religion, national origin of U.S. citizens, or sex.”
A separate letter, signed by another group of lawmakers, urged Mr. Van Hollen to uphold the policy as legal. They argued that it did not impose any “test,” as described in the 1973 law, and called it “thoughtfully and carefully written to allow admissions officials the flexibility they need to select the student body necessary to ensure the continued success of the institution.”
In the legal opinion, Mr. Van Hollen said the term “test” in the 1973 law was used to refer to an admissions standard that would disqualify any applicants who did not meet it. Because the system’s new admissions policy calls for campuses to consider race as just one of many factors in weighing applicants, it does not impose the sort of racial “test” that the 1973 law prohibits, he said.
Mr. Van Hollen’s letter contained a note of caution for the university system, however, saying that it must make sure applicants are considered as individuals, as required by the U.S. Supreme Court in its key rulings dealing with race-conscious admissions. —Peter Schmidt