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For immediate release: Feb. 17, 2003
Contact: Lauren Robinson-Brown (609) 258-3601, lauren@princeton.edu

Princeton joins amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to uphold the Bakke standards for the consideration of race in admissions decisions

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Princeton has joined with seven other leading private colleges and universities in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold affirmative action policies at the University of Michigan that have been challenged in two cases that the Court will be considering later this spring. In addition to Princeton, the signatories on the amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief were Harvard University, which prepared the brief, and Brown University, the University of Chicago, Dartmouth College, Duke University, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University.

"The Supreme Court's decisions in these cases could have significant implications not just for the University of Michigan, but for Princeton and the others who have signed this brief, for American higher education more generally, and for the nature of our society," said Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman. "During the 25 years since the Court considered the Bakke case, Princeton and many other highly selective universities have considered race or ethnicity as one among many factors in admission processes that evaluate each applicant individually and weigh the capacity of each to contribute to the class, to the institution, and to the society. It is important to universities and to the nation that we continue to be able to do this, for educational reasons and so that we can prepare future leaders who come from a full range of racial and ethnic backgrounds and are prepared to succeed in a multi-cultural global society. Our participation in this brief is intended to underscore to the Supreme Court that core issues affecting both higher education and societal leadership are at stake here."

The brief argues that as academically selective universities, the schools "have a compelling interest in ensuring that their student bodies incorporate the experiences and talents of the wide spectrum of racial and ethnic groups that make up our society. Amici should be free to compose a class that brings together many different kinds of students; that includes robust representation of students from different races and ethnicities; and that prepares graduates to work successfully in a diverse nation."

The amici further argue that their "experience during the quarter century since Bakke has confirmed the wisdom of that decision," noting that their admission policies "have served compelling pedagogical interests by contributing to a diverse and inclusive educational experience, teaching students to view issues from multiple perspectives, and helping to break down prejudices and stereotypical assumptions." The policies "make certain that no racial or ethnic group is excluded" and they "meet the demands of business and the professions by preparing a generation of public and private leaders for an increasingly pluralistic national and global economy.... Every major profession in America has made known a desire for diversity within its ranks. Businesses demand that the graduates of highly selective universities both be diverse and be prepared to work with colleagues from different backgrounds."

Noting that "the principal issue in this case" is not whether there should be racial and ethnic diversity, but the means by which it should be achieved, the brief asks the Court to "respect the institutional competence and academic freedom of amici and of other highly selective universities, public and private, regarding the most appropriate means to achieve these agreed-upon ends." It notes that alternative models, such as those that some states have adopted to guarantee admission to top students at each high school in the state, are infeasible and ineffective, mechanistic and poorly targeted, dependent on segregation at the secondary school level, and unworkable for national institutions or for graduate programs.

Noting that private universities are affected by the decision because they are subject to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which forbids institutions that receive federal funds from engaging in racial "discrimination," it urges the Court "to interpret the Constitution and federal statutes to leave amici and other selective educational institutions with latitude to take race and ethnicity into account as positive factors in their individualized admissions processes." They note that "giving favorable consideration to minority race and ethnicity in individualized admissions processes that exclude no one from any place in an entering class on account of race is the proverbial 'welcome mat' that does not use race in a segregative or constitutionally offensive way." It uses consideration of race as a means to achieve inclusion, not exclusion.

In describing the educational experience on their campuses, the amici note that "students are both recipients and providers of the learning that takes place ... and amici thus have a vital interest in what students bring to the task of educating each other.... Diversity helps students confront perspectives other than their own and thus to think more rigorously and imaginatively; it helps students learn to relate better to people from different backgrounds; it helps students become better citizens. The educational benefits of student diversity include the discovery that there is a broad range of viewpoint and experience within any given minority community -- as well as learning that certain imagined differences at times turn out to be only skin deep."

The policies these schools have adopted recognize that "being of a particular race, especially a race subject to historical and continuing prejudices, entails experiences that people of other races have not had and ought to understand better. These differences will vary from individual to individual, thus resulting in substantial differences within racial groups as well. Far from reflecting and perpetuating stereotypes, amici's admissions policies are consciously designed to dissolve them.... [They are] central elements in their strategy for breaking down racial and ethnic stereotypes.... The challenges of contemporary life demand that students acquire not just traditional forms of knowledge regarding science and the arts, but also techniques of bridging differences in perspective and in personal experience."

Noting the Court's traditional respect for academic freedom and its "deeply ingrained practice of deference to educators' judgments on educational matters," the brief indicates that in the schools' considered judgment, "individualized consideration of race and ethnicity in the admissions process is essential for selective universities to perform their broad educational function." In describing the admission process at Harvard (similar to the process at Princeton), it notes that the goal is to form a class "that is diverse along multiple dimensions" and that many qualities and attributes are taken into account. It also notes that "although amici consider minority race and ethnicity, the impact of that consideration always depends on the qualifications of all other applicants.... The consideration of race remains at all times within the bounds of the overall, individualized admissions process."

The brief emphatically points out that amici do not set aside specific spaces in their classes or establish quotas for minority students, and that an individualized admission process does not become a quota "simply because the number of admitted minority students may not vary radically from year to year." In fact, it points out, "the makeup of any given class does tend to be relatively predictable, simply because the applicant pool tends to be relatively consistent. One would expect, for example, that the number of redheaded students in the entering class would be relatively constant from year to year -- but that hardly demonstrates the existence of a 'red-head quota.'"

The Court is expected to hear oral arguments on April 1 and render a decision by the end of its term in June. One of the cases challenges Michigan's undergraduate admission process while the other challenges the process at its law school. The amicus brief joined by Princeton is one of more than 50 that have been submitted on behalf of Michigan by colleges and universities, major companies, unions, members of Congress, former military leaders, civil rights groups, law schools and legal associations, professional organizations, and others.

The full brief can be downloaded in Acrobat (.pdf) format at http://www.princeton.edu/pr/news/briefs/03-02-17-harvard.pdf. The University of Michigan maintains a Web site that contains other legal filings and additional background at http://www.umich.edu/~urel/admissions/.