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September 26, 1977, Princeton Alumni Weekly

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Admissions and the Relevance of Race
Addressing the issues of principle, policy, and practice raised by the Bakke case
By William G. Bowen *58

It is only within the last 10-15 years that Princeton, like many other selective colleges and universities, has made deliberate efforts to enroll minority students. As recently as 1962 fewer than 15 black students were attending the undergraduate college and the Graduate School combined. We do not have reliable figures for other racial minorities, but there is certainly no reason to believe that, with the possible exception of Asian-Americans, they were enrolled in significant numbers. Since then the situation has changed substantially, partly as a result of many individual and institutional efforts, and partly as a result of the moral concerns and social forces affecting the entire society, In the fall of 1977, for example, we expect to have approximately 340 black students and 300 other minority students in an undergraduate body of 4,400; the comparable figures for the Graduate School (again approximate) are expected to be 35 black students and 40 other minority students in a total of about 1,450.

During the same period, similar developments have occurred at most other educational institutions throughout the country. A variety of alternative approaches have been designed to improve the access of minority students, and the issues of principle, policy, and practice raised by these efforts have been discussed widely. Most recently, the case of The Regents of the University of California v. Allan Bakke, now before the U.S. Supreme Court, has raised anew — and in the sharpest possible way — the fundamental question of how, if at all, race should be considered relevant in admission decisions.

In a narrower sense, the question before the Court is whether a white applicant, Allan Bakke, was improperly denied admission to the Medical School of the University of California at Davis because of the operation of a special (and separate) admission program which reserved 16 places out of 100 in each entering class for minority students. The Supreme Court of California held this admission program to be unconstitutional, and the Regents of the University of California have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn that ruling. Since Princeton does not have a medical school, since we are a private university, and since the admission policies we follow at both undergraduate and graduate levels differ significantly from those in effect at the Davis Medical School (we do not have a separate admission process for minority students nor do we set aside a particular number of places for them), it might be thought that this case has no specific implications for us. That could in fact be right, for no one knows how narrowly or how broadly the Supreme Court will rule. But while we do not expect to be affected directly by the disposition of this case, the language of the majority opinion of the California Supreme Court and the sweeping nature of the arguments advanced in some of the briefs filed in the appeal make it hard to be at all sure that the ruling will be a narrow one.

Moreover, whatever the scope of the Court's decision, the Bakke case has stimulated discussion of such basic questions as: What considerations should be taken into account in deciding which individuals to admit from among the large number who apply? Is it ever proper to consider the race of an applicant, among other attributes? If so, why, and in what ways? Are there significant distinctions to be drawn between the use of quotas and other approaches to the recruitment of minority students?

The answers given to these questions are of obvious importance not only to colleges and universities, but to the country as a whole. They will influence powerfully the opportunities available to individuals to develop their talents to the full; and they will also influence, no less powerfully, both the kind of society to which we aspire and the likelihood of realizing the hopes so many of us share — for a society in which people of many races will work together and live together with larger measures of good will and shared respect than exist today.

In stating my own views on some of these questions, I am aware of the different connotations and emotional overtones associated with the very term "race" (which is, nevertheless, unavoidable in this discussion). In addition, it is clear that many of the questions most at issue are sensitive, difficult, and divisive; that good people, with the best possible motives, have come to different conclusions; and that some of the issues are constitutional and involve complex considerations of a legal nature that place them outside the competence of those of us who are not lawyers. Accordingly, this is a personal statement, and it is directed to questions of educational policy rather than to questions of constitutional law. The responsibility for the language and the argument is mine; at the same time, this statement does reflect substantially the main policies and rationale followed at Princeton during the last decade as we have undertaken to make the University more accessible to minority students as well as to others.

N THINKING ABOUT this difficult set of questions, one must begin by considering the broad purposes to be served in making admission decisions — purposes which must themselves reflect the still more fundamental goals of the educational institution as a whole. It is, after all, only within the context of reasonably well understood objectives that any particular policy can be assessed. At least part of the disagreement engendered by discussion of the Bakke case can be attributed, I think, to differences in assumptions about purpose — differences which are often implicit. While it may be argued that essentially everything that can be said about purpose is either so obvious or so general as to be of no help, there is a basic question to be decided explicitly concerning the nature of each institution and the group or groups to which those responsible for it should feel a primary obligation. American higher education is noted for its healthy diversity, and different approaches to admission should be expected to follow from different institutional objectives. institutional diversity is particularly useful in enabling us to test out alternative approaches in a relatively new area of activity where there may be no single "best" approach, and where the best combination of approaches for the nation as a whole may be known only after considerable time has passed.

In the case of this University, there is a primary commitment to learning itself, including research as well as liberal education in a wide variety of disciplines. Thus, our fundamental obligation is not to any identifiable set of individuals — whether they be applicants, current students, graduates, or faculty members — even though we depend upon and care greatly about all these groups. Rather, our obligation is to the society at large over the long run, and, even more generally, to the pursuit of learning. Amorphous as this way of putting things may sound, I think there is no escaping our obligation to try to serve the long-term interests of society defined in the broadest and least parochial terms, and to do so through two principal activities: advancing knowledge and educating students who will in turn serve others, within this nation and beyond it, both through their specific vocations and as citizens.

It is clear that admission decisions are critical to our ability to serve these broad purposes. Accordingly, we invest a great amount of effort in deciding which individuals to admit from among the large number who apply. While there are many ways of looking at the admission process, for present purposes it may be helpful to distinguish three broad sets of considerations that are involved in choosing among applicants: (1) the basic qualifications of individuals; (2) the composition of the student body; and (3) the potential contributions to society of those applicants possessing the basic qualifications.

Basic qualifications
It is self-evident that no purpose would be served by admitting students who were unable to take advantage of the educational opportunities offered by a university with demanding academic standards. Every candidate must demonstrate that he or she is capable of doing well at Princeton, and a first obligation of those responsible for admission is, therefore, to decide which applicants have the basic qualifications necessary to satisfy our requirements.

Of course, requirements are different at undergraduate and graduate levels and among graduate programs. At Princeton the graduate admission process is decentralized, with departments and schools accepting responsibility for presenting to the Dean of the Graduate School recommendations concerning the disposition of each application; the undergraduate college, on the other hand, has a single Office of Admission which acts on all applications. In the discussion which follows, my main emphasis is on undergraduate admission.

Decisions regarding basic qualifications at the undergraduate level are made on the basis of such evidence as previous academic preparation, including both courses taken and grades earned; recommendations of teachers and others concerning personal qualities as well as academic achievement and promise; aptitude and achievement test scores; the experiences of other students at the University who had similar qualifications; and so on. Reading an applicant's folder to determine even basic qualifications is of course by no means a purely mechanical process. As is well-known, there is no perfectly reliable or perfectly "objective" measure of any part of a candidate's credentials, and even such seemingly precise data as grades and test scores have to be examined carefully to determine what actual quality of achievement they reflect and what predictive power they may be thought to have in each instance.

More generally, it is essential to try to understand why an applicant has done what he or she has done and then to arrive at a prognosis for the future. While race is not in and of itself a consideration in determining basic qualifications, and while there are obviously significant differences in background and experience among applicants of every race, in some situations race can be helpful information in enabling the admission officer to understand more fully what a particular candidate has accomplished — and against what odds. Similarly, such factors as family circumstances and previous educational opportunities may be relevant, either in conjunction with race or ethnic background (with which they may be associated) or on their own.

Any college or university to which admission is highly competitive has far more applicants who possess all the basic qualifications than it has places. Some candidates (a relatively small number) are so outstanding in every respect that they are obvious choices for admission by any standard. The real problems of choice arise in deciding which individuals to admit from among the large group who also have very strong qualifications, who are thought capable of doing the work and doing it well, but who are not so clearly outstanding as to be placed in the very top category.

In deciding among this group, we do not start from the premise that any applicant has a "right" to a place in the University. We start rather from the premise that we have an obligation to make the best possible use of the limited number of places in each entering class so as to advance as effectively as we can the broad purposes we seek to serve. Within the very real limits imposed by the fallibility of any selection process of this kind, we try hard to be fair to every applicant; but the concept of fairness itself has to be understood within the context of our obligations as a university. Accordingly, in making these difficult choices among well-qualified candidates, the second and third sets of considerations come into play.

The composition of the student body
The relevance of the second set of considerations is based on the premise that the overall quality of the educational program is affected not only by the academic and personal qualities of the individual students who are enrolled, but also by the characteristics of the entire group of students who share a common educational experience. While I believe this to be true for the graduate program too, it is especially important for undergraduate education and, as a consequence, affects admission decisions much more significantly at that level. The difference is one of degree, related partly to the ages and experiences of the students, partly to the purposes of their educational programs and especially to the emphasis given to academic specialization, and partly to the respective roles of extracurricular and curricular activities.

In a residential college setting, in particular, a great deal of learning occurs informally. It occurs through interactions among students of both sexes; of different races, religions, and backgrounds; who come from cities and rural areas, from various states and countries; who have a wide variety of interests, talents, and perspectives; and who are able, directly or indirectly, to learn from their differences and to stimulate one another to reexamine even their most deeply held assumptions about themselves and their world. As a wise graduate of ours observed in commenting on this aspect of the educational process, "People do not learn very much when they are surrounded only by the likes of themselves."

It follows that if, say, 2,000 individuals are to be offered places in an entering undergraduate class, the task of the Admission Office is not simply to decide which applicants offer the strongest credentials as separate candidates for the college; the task, rather, is to assemble a total class of students, all of whom will possess the basic qualifications, but who will also represent, in their totality, an interesting and diverse amalgam of individuals who will contribute through their diversity to the quality and vitality of the overall educational environment.

This concern for the composition of the undergraduate student body, as well as for the qualifications of its individual members, takes many forms. While we are of course interested in enrolling students who are good at a great many things and not one-dimensional in any sense, we also try to enroll students with special interests and talents in the arts and in athletics; we seek a wide geographical representation; we admit foreign students from a variety of countries and cultures; we recognize the special contribution that the sons and daughters of alumni can make by representing and communicating a sense of the traditions and the historical continuity of the University; and we work consciously and deliberately to include minority students, who themselves represent a variety of experiences and viewpoints.

We must accept as a fact of life in contemporary America that the perspectives of individuals are often affected by their race as by other aspects of their background. If the University were unable to take into account the race of candidates, it would be much more difficult to consider carefully and conscientiously the composition of an entering class that would offer a rich educational experience to all of its members.

In the nature of things it is hard to know how, and when, and even if, this informal "learning through diversity" actually occurs. It does not occur for everyone. For many, however, the unplanned, casual encounters with roommates, fellow sufferers in an organic chemistry class, student workers in the library, teammates on a basketball squad, or other participants in class affairs or student government can be subtle and yet powerful sources of improved understanding and personal growth. I have heard too many testimonials, from too many able people of different races, to treat lightly the importance of such experiences.

Moreover, I believe that we are only at the beginning of what it ought to be possible for us to accomplish. Thus far we have not succeeded at all fully in obtaining for our students and our faculty the educational benefits that should flow from the presence of racial diversity. Apathy, selfconsciousness, misunderstanding, and distrust are hard to overcome. Too many of us, of all races, have been reluctant to reach across racial distances. We have been reluctant to give up some of the comforts that often come from being with those most like ourselves in order to benefit from the learning opportunities associated with getting to know people who have different perspectives. But I am encouraged by the progress that has been made, slow as it has been, and especially by the evident awareness of so many students, faculty, and staff that we need to do better.

It is of course true — and it should be recognized — that the presence on campus of students of different races sometimes results in tensions and even in hostility. But it is also true that acknowledging this reality, and learning to cope with it, can be profoundly educational. In this as in other respects, we often learn at least as much from our bad days as from our good days.

Perhaps a specific illustration will help make the point. Last October a number of undergraduate dormitories were circulated with leaflets purporting to associate a particular student group with the political and racial views of Lester Maddox. The leaflets called for the exclusion of minority students and other "undesirables" from the University. Not surprisingly, initial reactions were sharp, and the incident quickly gave rise to the expression of bitter feelings on many sides. In some ways these feelings grew even more intense at a later point, when it became clear that the leaflets had been designed as a hoax — and mixed with the sharpness and bitterness was an incredulity that any individuals could be so insensitive to the feelings of others.

This kind of controversy, and the insights it provided, either would not have occurred at all, or would have been far more muted, if there had been fewer minority students at Princeton willing and able to express their reactions, some in quite biting and personal terms. Because of these students, and many others, an experience that was hurtful and disturbing also proved to be very instructive. A number of white students, caught up in the controversy inadvertently, acquired a deeper understanding of the sensitivities of their fellow students who were members of racial minorities, as well as a new awareness of the seriousness of the underlying problem of racism. In addition, a number of minority students learned something about their own insecurities and biases, and about ways of coping with provocations.

In one respect the incident had a quite positive outcome, in that a broader discussion of questions of race stimulated by the hoax and its aftermath led to the formation of a student group with strong multi-racial leadership that continues to work hard to achieve better relationships. But this constructive result is not what I want to stress. Whether the immediate outcome of a particular situation be regarded as positive or negative, I am convinced that in many instances real learning occurs when people of different races confront the most sensitive questions together, openly and directly; when pain, frustration, and anger can no longer be hidden, creating at least a prospect, though never a promise, that some measure of greater understanding will follow.

These kinds of learning experiences, sometimes very satisfying and sometimes very painful, are important not only for particular students in an immediate sense but also for the entire society over time. Our society — indeed our world — is and will be multi-racial. We simply must learn to work more effectively and more sensitively with individuals of other races, and a diverse student body can contribute directly to the achievement of this end. One of the special advantages of a residential college is that it provides unusually good opportunities to learn about other people and their perspectives — better opportunities than many will ever know again. If people of different races are not able to learn together in this kind of setting, and to learn about each other as they study common subjects, share experiences, and debate the most fundamental questions, we shall have lost an important opportunity to contribute to a healthier society — to a society less afflicted by the failure of too many people to understand and respect one another.

Potential contributions to society
The third set of considerations involved in deciding whom to admit from among the large number of qualified candidates also has to do with contributions to the society. Here, however, we are concerned not with the broad educational consequences of a diverse student body but with assessing the potential contributions to the society of each individual candidate following his or her graduation — contributions defined in the broadest way to include the doctor and the poet, the most active participant in business or government affairs and the keenest critic of all things organized, the solitary scholar and the concerned parent.

Assessing the long-range potential of any applicant — trying to determine what the characteristics of individuals can tell us to expect from them beyond their days as students — is, of course, extremely difficult. People change, circumstances change, and there is simply no way of predicting with any great degree of confidence how a particular person will develop as a student in a given educational environment, let alone after he or she has left the University to assume new responsibilities. Nonetheless, if we take seriously our obligation to assign the limited number of places available to us with the ultimate purposes of the institution in mind, we have no alternative but to try to make these assessments of potential, difficult as they may be.

On the basis of our experience, many factors need to be taken into account. A candidate's grade point average and test scores, though significant in assessing potential as well as basic qualifications, are by no means all that is important. It is necessary to try to understand the motivation of the individual, the drive that he or she can be expected to bring to any task at hand, qualities of character and of personality, leadership abilities, skills in relevant non-academic areas, and the personal traits necessary to overcome adversity.

In making such judgments, the race of the individual, as well as many other factors, can be relevant in several respects. It is simply not possible to understand how individuals have come to be the people that they are without considering the elements that have shaped them. If two candidates have achieved roughly the same academic results (both meeting fully our basic qualifications), and one has done so in spite of serious difficulties, perhaps including the effects of racial discrimination (or, analogously, the effects of having been disadvantaged in some other way), then that individual may be thought to have demonstrated a degree of drive and determination that should be given weight in the competition for admission.

Race is relevant in another respect. It is a fact of contemporary life, noted by many commentators of quite different persuasions, that our country needs a far larger number of able people from minority groups in leadership positions of all kinds. To put the point bluntly — and to borrow for a moment from the vocabulary of my own discipline of economics — the demand for minority individuals in many professions and fields, compared with the supply, is significantly greater than for the rest of the population. And, I would argue, the true social demand, which should be seen as reflecting the needs of the society as a whole as well as those immediately relevant to its constituent elements, is even greater than the sum total of the perceived demands of individual institutions, businesses, governmental agencies, and the like. It seems to me indisputable that the welfare of the entire society will be advanced through the fuller development and application of the talents of minority members of our population and that this cannot be accomplished without overcoming the substantial disparities which exist now between the races in professional opportunities and attainments.

It is most certainly not my view that we should expect — much less try to force — a kind of "proportional representation" of different races or ethnic groups in various professions. But one can stop far short of advocating that kind of statistical outcome and still refuse, as I do, to regard as acceptable the present disparities which are clearly products of generations of unfair treatment.

Admission decisions must take into account the needs of society
The substantial public and private support of higher education in this country reflects a longstanding conviction that our institutions of higher learning in all of their forms contribute importantly to the development of what may be called the "social capital" of the nation. We have long believed that the human resources of the society are enhanced enormously by making liberal and humane learning, as well as professional education, available to a large proportion of our people. What is involved here is partly the enhancement of very personal qualities, including the ability to appreciate things of beauty, to develop a set of values, to do nothing less than to lead a full life; and partly the development of talents essential to the social, economic, cultural, and political— welfare of the entire society — to the quality of our collective lives, if you will.

If colleges and universities serve these large societal purposes through the individuals they have educated, as well as through scholarship and research, then it seems to me to follow directly that in making admission decisions educational institutions must take into account the needs of the society — including the need for minority persons who can contribute through the law, medicine, the ministry, business, and other professions; who can pursue scholarly careers in the arts and sciences; who can serve in positions of public trust; and who can, in fact, take a full part in every aspect of the life of the nation. If educational institutions were prevented from being sensitive to race as one factor among others that are relevant in considering the potential contributions of individuals to the society, then it would be far more difficult — indeed impossible — to discharge responsibly the obligation to develop as fully as possible the "social capital" of the country.

In thinking about social capital, it is important to have in mind a very broad concept; we are certainly not talking primarily about economic values or qualities reflected mainly in the marketplace. We mean to include the ability of individuals to contribute through the multitude of informal roles open to the concerned citizen, as well as through vocations and the more formal channels of public service. With this broad conception before us, it is helpful, I think, to view the admission process as involving what are, in one sense, long-term investment decisions. In making its selections, the Admission Office has to consider which individuals among those with the basic qualifications are most likely over long periods of time to provide what the economist would call the greatest benefit (or highest yield) in terms of contribution to the society.
Thinking in these terms can be useful in part because it allows us to recognize explicitly that risk and potential return are both factors to be taken into account. For reasons that are familiar to all of us, having to do with prior preparation and with the pervasive effects of discrimination, the admission of some minority students may entail modestly greater risk than the admission of some non-minority students. But surely it is appropriate to take reasonable risks, remembering that we are talking only about applicants above the "basic qualifications" threshold, in recognition of the very substantial potential returns that may result. (I underscore "some" to emphasize that significant numbers of minority students have had excellent preparation, test well, and have appreciably stronger academic records than many white students who are admitted. One of the discouraging by-products of much of the recent discussion stimulated by the Bakke case is that it seems to have encouraged a certain tendency to assume that all, or nearly all, minority students are less well qualified academically than all, or nearly all, white students. This is not so, and it is unfair to individuals and harmful to our understanding of the real issues to think that it is so.)

Of course, the same considerations apply generally in the admission process. It is often the case that one student with lower test scores than another will seem a better choice to the admission officer because of what appears to be a greater potential, even though the individual may also represent a somewhat greater risk. In short, paying special attention to minority students, because of the barriers many have had to overcome and because of the need society has for larger numbers of well-educated persons from minority groups, is fundamentally only an extension of an important established principle: namely, the need to think hard about every candidate's potential contribution in the light of both what the individual is at the time of application and what he or she may yet become.*

(*In my view there has been an unfortunate tendency in some of the recent discussion growing out of the Bakke case to assume that arguments pertinent to questions of admission apply without qualification to questions of employment, and vice versa. Thinking about admission decisions as having many of the attributes of a long-term investment decision related to the creation of social capital has the important advantage of suggesting some significant differences (as well as some similarities) between admission decisions and various kinds of university employment decisions. For example, the appointment of a postdoctoral fellow has both some of the attributes of an admission decision (in that one is investing in the further development of an individual's talents and thus trying to develop more social capital for the future) and some of the attributes of an employment decision (in that the person may be expected to contribute immediately and directly to the achievement of a particular research result). At the other end of the spectrum, the appointment of a senior full professor has much less to do with the further development of an individual's talents (though one always hopes that some further learning will occur) and much more to do with trying to put to good use talents that have been developed quite fully already. Of course, there are also other important differences between admission and employment decisions, having to do with the extent and nature of the commitment of the institution to the individual and of the individual to the institution, the risks for both the individual and the institution associated with having one's expectations disappointed, and so on. My general point is simply that the questions of policy concerning admission and the questions of policy concerning employment are both extremely important; each deserves to be considered carefully in its own right.)

For all of the reasons given above, we have concluded, as have many other educational institutions, that in making admission decisions at the present time it is proper to be sensitive to the race of applicants as well as to a great many other characteristics. For my own part, I am convinced, firmly convinced, that this is a correct conclusion. But that is certainly not to say that it is easily reached or that many of us, myself included, reach it without recognizing the substantial and important considerations that pull in the other direction.

There is a real tension, which I think should be acknowledged explicitly, between the strong arguments in favor of being sensitive to race in admission decisions and a deeply felt desire to be free of what is in the ultimate sense a wrong way of distinguishing among human beings. We care finally about what people are and can accomplish as individuals, and not primarily about their race, sex, religion, family background, or politics. To be sure, this is an ideal which we never live up to completely, either individually or institutionally, but it is an ideal nonetheless. And it is largely because of the power of this ideal, and because we are so aware of the abuses that may follow if we depart from it, that one can certainly understand the feelings expressed by one or my colleagues when he said: "I wish we could wear blindfolds when we admit people."
Tempting as it may be to base policies on a vision of the world as some of us might wish it to be, it is the present reality that we must address as honestly and as thoughtfully as we can; and I am persuaded that, at this juncture in our history, race is relevant. It is relevant because, as I have tried to indicate, "wearing blindfolds" would make it harder for us to do three important things in admission: (1) to understand as fully as possible what the record of each applicant really represents in the way of past achievement and future promise as a student; (2) to attain a diversity within the student body that can affect significantly both the quality of the immediate educational experience on the campus and the long-term ability of people of different races to work well with each other; and (3) to assess as thoughtfully as possible every applicant's potential long-run contributions to the society.

The disadvantages of proceeding in this way are obvious. Any time that we allow judgments which are inevitably subjective in more than the usual degree to enter a process of choice, we open up the possibility of abuse — of unwise or wrongful use of discretion. Any time that we allow an attribute such as race to be taken into account at all, we are reminded that too often in the past the consequence has been the arbitrary and unfair limitation of opportunities for particular groups. Moreover, acknowledging the propriety of taking race into account in any way can make it somewhat harder to resist arguments that we should pay more attention to other attributes for which at least some of the same arguments might be advanced but for which, on balance, the case is less persuasive. Taking race into account may also, in the short run at least, exacerbate some antagonisms and generate a new and opposite sense of unfairness, even while contributing to the easing of these same tensions over the long run, as we seek to move through what many of us hope will prove to be a transition period (though quite possibly a long and difficult one). Finally, as I have said, any consideration of race can create a genuine moral dilemma for all of us, of every race, who do not want to think about ourselves or others in such terms.

Conclusions on most important issues are “on balance” conclusions, and those who conclude, as I do, that race does need to be taken into account in admission decisions should not be reluctant to acknowledge the difficulties and the dangers. Indeed, awareness of the full range of concerns is essential if we are to devise sensible methods of translating this general conclusion into specific policies and procedures — policies and procedures which are consistent with the purposes and particular circumstances of each educational institution and which minimize the risk that undesirable results will follow from good intentions.

At Princeton, it has not been our view that sensitivity to race should lead to a quota system, and we have avoided the use of quotas at both undergraduate and graduate levels. We have chosen not to set aside specific numbers of places for minority students or to establish separate admission procedures. Rather, we have made special efforts to identify and attract minority students and we have given them some special consideration in the general admission process, just as we have a number of other groups, including (at the undergraduate level) applicants with artistic and athletic abilities, and children of alumni.

While this approach to the admission of minority students does not imply any formula for determining specific numbers (and in fact the enrollment of minority students has fluctuated appreciably over the last decade or so), it would be quite wrong to suggest that the numbers of those who enroll are irrelevant or unimportant. They matter from the standpoint of the contribution we are able to make to the society through the minority students whom we educate. They matter too from the standpoint of our ability to achieve important educational objectives on the campus. As we have learned from our experience, when there are very few minority students they are apt to feel isolated and unable to make the contributions to the University which we hope and expect them to make; moreover, under such circumstances, particular minority students may also feel especially strong pressure to subordinate some of their own individuality to a perceived need for group identification. Thus, both the importance of encouraging all students to feel free to be themselves and the general case for diversity argue for the desirability of attracting a large enough number of minority students to permit a significant degree of diversity within that group as well as within the entire student body.

At the same time, while recognizing —that for all of these reasons numbers are significant, we believe strongly that each applicant must be judged as an individual. This is the fundamental reason why the number of minority students should be expected to vary somewhat as the pool of minority applicants changes in size and quality, as other circumstances change (including the number and quality of other applicants), and as experience is gained in admitting and educating a student body that is diverse along many dimensions.

It is for others to decide whether there are differences in constitutional law between these approaches. Whatever the legal distinctions, however, it seems seriously wrong to allow the discussion growing out of the Bakke case to become polarized in the sense of implying that the only alternatives are either adopting quotas based on race or being entirely insensitive to race in making admission decisions. Indeed, in trying to achieve our own educational objectives, we have rejected both of these positions.

Proceeding as we have — taking account of race along with many other factors, but not through the mechanism of a separate admission procedure geared to filling an established number of places — has seemed to us to have two major advantages:

First, it encourages, even forces, comparisons of candidates who present different kinds of special attributes, especially at that point in the process when the most clear-cut admission decisions have been made, and only a relatively small number of places remains for a relatively large number of strong, but not clearly superior, applicants. Making comparisons across various groups, and having them made by a single set of admission personnel, seems fairest to all candidates. This procedure has the advantage of directing attention on a continuing basis to the whole set of considerations that seem relevant in the admission process — and doing so in as consistent a way as possible.

The second advantage of this procedure is, in my judgment, at least as important: It makes clear to the minority students, as to all other students, that everyone who has been admitted has been part of a single admission process, carried out by a single admission staff. An important reason for having a diverse student body is to encourage people who are different from each other to learn from each other and to do so with mutual respect. Any process that separates minority students from other students in terms of perceived criteria or a separate process can work against this objective, in terms of the way minority students see themselves and in terms of the way others see them. Minority students, like all other students, should know that they have been admitted because they have earned admission — because they are expected to do well and to make important contributions to the University and to the society — and not because they are the means whereby we manage to achieve some predetermined numerical result.

In commenting on a draft of a paper I wrote some time ago on affirmative action in employment, a friend of mine said that he thought I had failed to state an important ultimate objective: the desirability of trying to achieve a situation in which every individual, from every background, felt "unselfconsciously included." That states an elusive objective, not attainable for many people in any full sense now, no matter how hard we strive to reach it. But for me it continues to be a phrase full of meaning, indicative of a right direction, and suggestive of a goal worthy of our best efforts.

William G. Bowen was president of Princeton University from 1972-1988. He is currently president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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