Bollinger named in suit against U. Michigan

by Jason Peoples | 10/24/97 5:00am

Former Dartmouth Provost Lee Bollinger and the University of Michigan have been named defendants in an affirmative action lawsuit alleging that the university discriminates against white applicants.

The suit was filed against Bollinger, currently president of the University of Michigan, on October 14 in a U.S. District Court by the Center for Individual Rights, the same group that won last year's Hopwood Case ending race-based preferences at the University of Texas.

The lawsuit alleges that Michigan, like the University of Texas, operates a 'dual' admissions program, with different criteria for white and minority applicants.

"In some cases, minorities are automatically admitted whereas non-minority applicants with identical SAT scores and grades are automatically rejected," said Terry Pell, a lawyer and spokesman for the Center for Individual Rights.

Bollinger claims that the university's admissions policy takes many factors into account and is necessary to maintain the school's 25 percent minority enrollment. He said the lawsuit will generate an important discussion of affirmative action.

"This will be a difficult time for the University of Michigan. It will test the character of the institution," he said in a statement. "I do not mean that this discussion, or debate, is unacceptable. On the contrary, we are dealing with something that goes deep into our history."

After the Hopwood Case ended race as an admissions criterion at the University of Texas last year, the number of minorities admitted to the school plummeted.

The Center for Individual Rights said such a severe drop in the number of minorities admitted to Michigan is unlikely if the policies are ruled illegal.

University of Michigan spokeswoman Julie Peterson said she agrees.

"I don't anticipate a large change in minority enrollment either up or down," she said. "If there is a change, it will be a small one."

It is common practice when suing a university for plaintiffs to name individual administrators in lawsuits, although they are seldom held personally liable, according to Dartmouth College Counsel Cary Clark.

"It would not surprise me if one of the first actions taken by the University of Michigan's lawyers would be to have Bollinger's name removed from the list of defendants," Clark said.

Although affirmative action lawsuits against public universities are becoming more frequent, it is unlikely that Dartmouth will face such a suit because it is a private institution, and therefore has more flexibility in admissions policies.