Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Paper 2 (optional) -- Due Wed. 4/20/06 11:59PM

Here is the paper 2 assignment. As mentioned in class, you may choose not to do this assignment. If you choose not to write this paper, all your other assignments will be reweighted to make up for it. As always, the usual late policies apply.

Same basic format as the first paper. Write essentially an op-ed piece for a broad, college-educated audience. Max 1200 words. Submit via email.

Three years ago, the Supreme Court upheld the University of Michigan’s use of race in the admissions process – ruling against the plaintiffs who argued that the university’s admissions policies unlawfully discriminate against them because the university takes race into account as a “plus” factor in its admissions process. Nine-years ago, the people of California passed Prop 209 which prohibited the use of race, gender, etc. in admissions to public universities. Make an argument (i.e., an economic argument) for or against the university’s use of race in the admissions process.

Lest I give away too much of what I am looking for, I will not elaborate much. I will simply reiterate that I am looking for arguments that are convincing to me (an economist). Strong evidentiary support for your claims is not required. Mostly, I am interested that you raise the relevant issues and make reasonable statements regarding them. Ultimately, I will be grading these papers using the same basic principles that you utilized in evaluating the Cohen piece in the first article.

Some things to keep in mind. Think carefully about what the objective function underlying your argument is. Think about exactly what affirmative action in admissions affects. What are the costs and benefits associated with these effects? Do the benefits justify the costs?

In case you are interested, here is a brief description of the University of Michigan’s admissions policies:

Our undergraduate admissions office is staffed with a group of professional counselors, assigned by regions of the country, who develop relationships with and specialized knowledge of the high schools in those regions. Throughout the admissions process, counselors consider a variety of information about an applicant, including the application, essay, high school transcript, letters of recommendation, and communications with high school counselors and teachers. To help evaluate the items in the file, the counselors use a Selection Index worksheet. That worksheet guides the counselor but does not solely determine admissions decisions.

The Selection Index used for the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts has 150 total points. Race is only one of a variety of factors that are considered. By far the greatest weight---up to 80 points---goes to high school G.P.A. Applicants can earn up to 12 points for SAT or ACT scores, up to 10 points for attending a competitive high school, and up to 8 points for taking the most challenging curriculum. Points are awarded for personal achievement, leadership and service, and for being an alumni legacy. Students also can earn points for coming from a geographic area that is less well represented on our campus. For instance, 16 points are given to students from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

In a miscellaneous category, students can earn a total of 20 points for having an economically disadvantaged background, being an underrepresented minority, attending a high school serving a predominately minority population, or being a scholarship athlete, among others. The essay is an important portion of the application where students can communicate their unique personal histories and circumstances. Even though we only give 3 points (it used to be 1) for the quality of writing in the essay, the content of the essay may factor into many other portions of the admissions process.

Taken as a whole, the many criteria we consider are effective in composing a student body that is diverse in a variety of ways, as well as outstanding academically.

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