The University of Virginia has discarded a scoring system that gave preference to nonwhite applicants in the early stages of the admissions process, school President John T. Casteen III said in a statement released yesterday.
Although several U-Va. trustees already had said that the college's affirmative action program should be revised because of recent federal court rulings, Casteen's statement marks the first time that a U-Va. official has acknowledged a change in admissions policy.
Casteen said the scoring system that he dropped "late last winter or early spring" had been used for six years and was designed to "identify students who are likely to be competitive" in the admissions process "and those who are not." He said it was a device designed to help the overworked admissions staff and was not intended to be discriminatory.
Applicants received extra points if they were nonwhite, as did foreign applicants and those who were low-income, were living with just one parent, were the first generation in their family to apply to college or had a special talent, Casteen said. Those students thus were less likely to land in the bottom category in the initial sorting of the admissions office's incoming mail, he said.
Casteen say the scoring system was never used in final admissions decisions.
In 1998, 10.7 percent of U-Va. freshmen were African American, 10.2 percent were Asian American, and 1.8 percent were Hispanic.
Although many colleges have numerical rating systems, U-Va.'s practice of boosting the score of all nonwhite applicants was unusual, according to admissions officials at several other schools.
"The application scoring system did not work well enough here because every applicant is entitled to a holistic evaluation, regardless of particular qualities (including race) that might be part of a scoring model," said Casteen. "I asked as a routine management matter that this system be dropped, and it was."
Casteen said U-Va. will continue to take an applicant's race into account, but on a case-by-case basis without using any scoring formula. "Many factors considered together determine who gets in and who does not," he said. "Human beings, not tables of numbers, make the decisions."
His statement did not say whether admissions officials are considering any other affirmative-action changes, and a school spokeswoman said he would not be available for an interview.
In recent weeks, several members of the school's Board of Visitors had said that the way U-Va. used race as a factor in admissions probably would not survive a legal challenge. They said they planned to find other ways to maintain significant numbers of minority students on campus, such as through efforts to attract more minority applicants.
Paul Gaston, history professor emeritus at U-Va. and one of the leaders of a faculty effort to preserve affirmative action at the school, said "you should not attach much significance to some report that we have made dramatic changes in the admissions procedure. We have not."
He said he thought the university had stopped the scoring system because "it sends lawyers up the wall--any time you have a formulaic consideration, they get nervous."
Meanwhile, the Gilmore administration yesterday continued its campaign to make the state's public universities more accountable by reminding college trustees to put state taxpayers first as they oversee those institutions and craft their annual spending plans.
"It is you who are responsible to the people," said M. Boyd Marcus Jr., the chief of staff to Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R). "That responsibility of being a representative of the people of Virginia--and of the taxpayers--is the burden that is on your shoulders."
About 50 new and reappointed members of university boards of visitors from around the state gathered in Richmond for a management seminar, and Marcus set the session's tone by summarizing his boss's effort to make the schools accountable, affordable and the envy of other public systems.
At his swearing-in last year, Gilmore interrupted his inaugural address to sign an executive order creating a special commission on higher education and he has sent explicit and repeated signals that he will be scrutinizing college spending.
His message has irked many college administrators and their allies in the General Assembly who hold university purse strings and have protected the autonomy of those institutions for years.
Still, some of Gilmore's appointees said yesterday that they get the message. W. Scott McGeary, a utility company executive and vice rector of George Mason University, said the GMU board was already holding the line on costs and annual tuition, which is $1,872 for in-state undergraduates and $6,252 for out-of-state students.