Monday, August 28, 2023
On June 29, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in the Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. Harvard/UNC cases regarding the universities’ consideration of race as a factor in undergraduate admissions; a single decision covered both cases and emerged from the Equal Protection Clause under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This decision has implications for admissions procedures within higher education.
Chancellor Mnookin wrote in her June 29, 2023 message to campus, “The ruling will require some modifications to aspects of our current admissions practices; we will, of course, adapt our practices to comply with the law. At the same time, I want to reiterate that our commitment to the value of diversity within our community, including racial diversity, remains a bedrock value of the institution.” In this document, the Graduate School provides guidance to graduate programs at University of Wisconsin-Madison regarding appropriate approaches and procedures.
The university is still assessing all the ways in which it will need to adapt to the Supreme Court decision in the SFFA v. UNC/Harvard cases. We will preserve the University’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion while staying within the limits of the law.
Under the Court’s decision, universities may not consider “race for race’s sake” in admissions decision processes. However, the Court noted that universities are not prohibited “from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.” The Court made clear that a student “must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual—not on the basis of race.” Thus, “a benefit to a student who overcame racial discrimination, for example, must be tied to that student’s courage and determination.” Likewise, “a benefit to a student whose heritage or culture motivated him or her to assume a leadership role or attain a particular goal must be tied to that student’s unique ability to contribute to the university.”
The Graduate School is implementing the following items to help programs maintain and bolster diversity, equity, and inclusion in their programs while also staying within the scope of the law.
1. Application Portal Changes
Race will still be collected on the application to be used for purposes such as reporting, planning, and assessment. However, in Applicant Review, an applicant’s race and ethnicity will not be viewable in the review portal. This is to ensure that the race or ethnicity of an applicant is not being considered “for race’s sake” in the admissions process.
Although Advanced Opportunity Fellowship (AOF) criteria is under review, we plan to continue to distribute the AOF funds until further notice. However, AOF eligibility will not be viewable to reviewers until an applicant has been admitted. Once admitted, reviewers will be able to see a student’s AOF eligibility to use for funding decisions.
Programs are not allowed to keep track of any race or ethnicity related/revealing information on application fee grant coupon code recipients. Fee grant status also will not be viewable to reviewers.
If necessary, units should take other appropriate steps to ensure that reviewers do not access data regarding applicant race and ethnicity.
2. Supplementary Application Questions
To aid admissions committees in making holistic admissions decisions, the Graduate School worked with UW-Madison’s Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) to develop a list of potential supplementary application questions for graduate programs to use in the 2024 application cycle. These are not mandatory questions, however, if a program chooses to use one or more of these questions, it must use the responses in a holistic way as part of the admissions process. In particular, the response cannot be used as a proxy for race in the admissions process. A program must be able to describe why the question is important for its admissions review and how the information will be used in its admissions process. If a program wishes to ask a new/different question on the supplemental application about students’ personal experiences with diversity, equity, and inclusion, the program must coordinate with the Graduate School.
Programs may select from the supplementary application questions below:
- What lessons have you learned from your background and life experiences, and what skills or abilities have you acquired from those lessons?
- What do you see as your potential role and/or contribution to create a more diverse, accepting, and stimulating community, campus, and society?
- How have your background and life experiences, including cultural, geographical, financial, educational, or other opportunities or challenges motivated your decision to pursue a graduate degree a the University of Wisconsin-Madison?
- Provide insight into your potential to contribute to a community of inclusion, belonging, and respect in which scholars with various perspectives, abilities, and experiences can learn and collaborate productively and positively.
- Please describe how your personal perspectives and/or experiences will contribute to enhancing a community of inclusion, belonging, and respect within the departmental community.
- Each student will bring a unique set of personal attributes, characteristics, culture, and experiences to contribute to a diverse and inclusive environment:
- What have you done to further your knowledge about building or enhancing a community of inclusion, belonging, and respect?
- How have you demonstrated what you have learned?
- What are your greatest opportunities for growth in this area?
Programs that will include supplementary application questions must provide a brief description to the Graduate School about how the information collected will be used in the admissions review process. Supplemental applications are edited each year by the Graduate School and emails will be sent out to departments requesting changes and justifications at that time.
3. Holistic Review
The Graduate School strongly encourages departments to use a holistic approach when making admissions decisions. Application holistic review may include a student’s formal academic preparation (such as GPA and coursework), recommendation letters, academic and personal statements on motivation and interests in pursuing a program, and information on student experiences that may contribute to an applicant’s potential to succeed in a graduate program. Statements (examples noted above) from applicants on how they may contribute to a diverse, equitable, and inclusive learning environment may also be part of a holistic review.
A holistic rubric allows admissions committee members to rate students consistently in multiple categories. Qualities that a rubric can include:
- Academic Preparation. This can include GPA, performance on coursework (especially courses relevant to program), major/minor, and performance on standardized tests.
- Research and/or Professional Experience/pursuit of research. Using the resume/CV and personal statement, reviewers may rate the applicant on the extent of their research/professional experience, technology skills/experience, awards received and other relevant professional experiences.
- Motivation. Reviewers may rate the applicant on clarity of purpose, depth and maturity, reasons to pursue the program, and educational and career goals.
- Resilience/Perseverance. Looking at personal statements, letters of recommendation, and resume/CV, reviewers may rate the applicant on resilience, initiative, and leadership potential.
- Teaching potential and language skills. Looking at personal statements, letters of recommendation, and resume/CV, reviewers may rate the applicant on potential to contribute to teaching.
Multiple rating categories allow for a holistic review process. Admissions committee members should also include detailed narrative comments, especially if they rate the student as exceptional. It is important that reviewers perform independent application evaluations. Once all initial reviews are completed, it is best practice for admissions reviewers to integrate the reviews and discuss the results as part of the admissions decision. An interview with an applicant may also be part of a holistic admissions process.
When conducting a holistic review of applicants, the following directions must be followed:
- You cannot consider the race of an applicant "for race's sake" in the admissions process. You cannot use the fact of an applicant's race alone in any part of the admission decision. For example, if you learn information about an applicant's race, you are prohibited from using that fact as a reason to admit the applicant, just as you are prohibited from using that fact as a reason to deny the application.
- If you learn through an application that an applicant has demonstrated a race-neutral attribute that the university and department values in students through means that reference the applicant's race, you can consider that information in your admission decision. For example, if you learn that an applicant was president of her college's Black Student Union, you can consider that information as demonstrating the applicant's leadership skills.
We recognize that this may be a change from your previous admissions review process and will take a few admissions cycles to work through all the challenges presented with this new process. We must abide by the Supreme Court decision.
The Graduate School is hosting a Holistic Admissions Workshop for graduate programs on Friday, September 29, 2023. Watch for additional details and a link to register for the event, coming soon.
If you have any questions about evaluation criteria, please contact the Office of Admissions in the Graduate School at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Graduate School will also hold a town hall in the Fall semester to help answers on topics covered in this memorandum.
William J. Karpus
Dean of the Graduate School
Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
This message was sent to graduate faculty, Directors of Graduate Study, Chairs, Graduate Program Coordinators, and Admissions Contacts. The Graduate School relies on programs to keep roles updated in the Unit Directory; if you received this message in error or if a colleague reports not receiving it, please contact your Graduate Program Coordinator about updating the Unit Directory.