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High Court ruling impacts admissions at medical school

The School of Medicine has had to adjust its admissions policy following this summer's U.S. Supreme Court ruling on two University of Michigan affirmative action cases, University officials said. All other University admissions policies have been unaffected by the ruling.

Dr. Edward Halperin, vice dean of the School of Medicine, said a very small factor for economic disadvantage and minority status was eliminated from the numeric template used to narrow down the initial pool of medical school applications.

"While Duke, as a private institution, is not bound by precisely the same strictures as a tax-supported public institution like the University of Michigan, it is appropriate that we be in absolute compliance with the new Supreme Court guidelines," Halperin wrote in an e-mail. "Therefore, after consultation with the director of [medical school] admissions and University counsel, we deleted the use of any numeric representation of the economic disadvantage and race in our template."

The Michigan decisions validated the consideration of race in admissions but discredited quantitative affirmative action policies, such as points-based systems. The School of Medicine's former admissions rubric, unlike others at the University, fell into the latter category.

Initially, it appeared that all of the University's admissions standards were acceptable.

"Although we still need to review the decisions in depth, I am confident that the admission policies approved by Duke's Board of Trustees, which have enabled the University to attract a diverse student body of the highest quality, are consistent with the court's rulings," said President Nan Keohane in a June statement.

Closer examination followed as administrators at each of Duke's nine schools reviewed the legality of their undergraduate and graduate-level admissions policies in consultation with University counsel.

While only the medical school has been shown to be inconsistent with the rulings, Provost Peter Lange said further review is underway. "We're continuing to monitor the decision, getting different reactions through our network of other universities and sort of honing our policy and then comparing the emerging policy implications," he said.

Director of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag said that after discussing the matter with University attorneys, he feels confident that undergraduate admissions are in accordance with the law.

"The conclusion that we've drawn is that we don't have to make any significant changes to our admissions practices at all," he said. "What the Supreme Court contrived is the way selective colleges have been doing it for quite a while."

Although Guttentag said larger public universities with quantitative undergraduate admissions systems may need to adjust their policies, he said he did not know of any changes being made at selective private colleges.

Dennis Shields, associate dean of admissions and financial aid for the law school, said the law school's admissions policy was unaffected by the Michigan rulings but that they prompted an explication of the existing policy. "We're in the process of creating a more explicit written policy, but it won't reflect any changes in anything we're doing now," he said.

Only a third of U.S. colleges--generally the most selective--have affirmative action programs, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Of those that do, a small number have points-based systems like those at Michigan's law school. Ohio State University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst amended their points-based undergraduate policies in October.

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