A report from a conservative think tank criticizes the admissions policies of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the group’s press conference at an off-campus hotel on Tuesday drew a crowd of protesters.

The Center for Equal Opportunity report claims black and Hispanic applicants are more likely than whites and Asians to be admitted to the Madison campus and to the UW Law School – and that those minorities get admitted over whites who have higher test scores and class rankings. “I view discrimination as something that happens to individuals, as opposed to something that we determine based on what happens to aggregate groups,” said CEO President Roger Clegg. Clegg said just because a student is black or Latino does not mean they are from an underprivileged background. “There are plenty of white kids and Asian kids and Arab-American kids who fall into those categories too, and there are also plenty of African-American kids and Latino kids who grow up in middle class or upper class backgrounds.”

Danez Smith was one of dozens of UW students who converged on the Madison DoubleTree hotel upon learning that the Center for Equal Opportunity was holding a press conference there. Smith saw it as an attack on minority students. “To come here tell us that we don’t belong is an insult,” said Smith. “It’s like spitting in my face and then telling me that everything I’ve worked for the last four years . . . was not worth it because I did not deserve to get in here from the start.” 

Damon Williams, UW-Madison’s chief diversity officer, said there’s no discrimination in the admissions process. “We believe deeply in the process that we have put into place,” he said. “All it is (the CEO report) is a minor distraction, because we’re going to be about the business of advancing our institutional mission, educating iconic Badgers, and doing everything we can to serve the state, the nation and the world.” 

Williams spoke to reporters after the students had crowded into the hotel lobby and into the room where the press conference was held. Some of the students followed Clegg as he exited the press conference. Students eventually left the hotel and Madison police, who arrived on the scene after the students had entered, did not make any arrests. Students planned another protest on campus Tuesday evening, and CEO’s Clegg was scheduled to take part in a debate at 7:00 at UW Law School.

A press release from the university stated that UW-Madison employs a holistic, competitive and selective admissions process which takes into account a range of factors, including grades, standardized test scores, recommendations, extracurricular activities, leadership and written statements.

“Any student who is accepted at UW-Madison is here because he or she has the potential and the capacity to succeed,” said UW-Madison Interim Chancellor David Ward. “No matter what a student’s class rank or test scores were, students who are accepted qualify for a spot at this university. No one is admitted solely because of race or ethnicity.”

State Representative Steve Nass, the chair of the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities, said that committee would likely hold a public hearing on the CEO report. “Legislation could flow out of this, to correct this problem,” said Nass. “It certainly needs to be addressed.” Nass said he fought the holistic approach to admissions, “because I believed in the end that there would be people who would be cheated out of going to the university.”

AUDIO: Bob Hague reports (1:05)

WRN’s Brian Moon contributed to this report

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