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Feb. 18, 2003 Press Contact: Larry Arbeiter
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The University of Chicago joins amicus brief before U.S. Supreme Court

Cover of Brief
Text of Brief

The University of Chicago has joined seven other leading private universities in urging the U.S. Supreme Court to preserve the ability of colleges and universities to consider race as one of many factors in their admissions processes. The University of Chicago, together with Harvard, Yale Princeton, Brown, Duke and the University of Pennsylvania, filed a "friend of the court" brief in two cases pending before the Court that challenge the admissions policies of the law school and undergraduate college of the University of Michigan.

Those cases will likely determine whether a quarter-century policy of considering race in admissions by both public and private colleges will be allowed to continue. While the cases before the Court deal with a public university, the Court’s ruling may well apply also to private universities.

The principal issue in the Court cases is not whether racial diversity in higher education is desirable, the brief argues. On that issue there is widespread consensus. The question is rather over the methods used to achieve it, and whether the methods widely used for over a quarter century remain acceptable.

The amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief specifically urges that the Court preserve the universities’ flexibility to maintain policies that take account of race and ethnic background in their efforts to create a diverse student body. These policies, the brief argues, enhance the educational experience within the classroom, broaden educational opportunities, and better prepare graduates to succeed in an increasingly multicultural world. The brief is one of more than 60 that have been filed in support of the University of Michigan, perhaps the largest number ever in a case before the Supreme Court.

“The modern world requires that people of fundamentally different intellectual and cultural perspectives be capable of engaging one another productively,” said University of Chicago President Don Michael Randel. “A university education that fails to take account of this is a dismal failure.”

“The issue of race is a crucial one in teaching and research across the university,” said University Provost Richard Saller. “It is vital that the University recruit a diverse student body and faculty who bring different social and cultural experiences and interests to the classroom and the search for new knowledge.”

At the University of Chicago, each prospective student is considered individually, through evaluation of his or her accomplishments, background and written or personal presentation, without use of separate categories for different races or reference to formulas or litmus tests for admission. In the brief, the eight universities (described in the brief as the Amici) note that, in accordance with the Court’s 1978 decision in Bakke, they enhance diversity not through quotas or strict measures, but by considering race as one of many factors, and alongside other factors, in the admissions process.

The University has defended the admissions practices of its own Law School before the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education during a recent review, and that office found the procedures met the constitutional requirements outlined in Bakke.

The University of Chicago has for its entire history valued and sought diversity of many types among its faculty and its student bodies. The first recipient of a University of Chicago Ph.D. degree, in 1893, was a student of Japanese descent, Eiji Asada. The first black woman to earn a doctorate in the United States, Georgiana Simpson, earned that distinction in 1921 at the University of Chicago. And perhaps the first black tenured faculty member at a major, non-historically black university was the University of Chicago’s Professor Allison Davis, in 1946. All of these achievements were a result of the same commitment to diversity of ideas and background that still exists at the University today.

The brief argues that “Amici’s admissions 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 prepare students to work productively in a multiracial environment after they graduate, and the policies 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.”

The authors stress that these objectives cannot be achieved by the alternative measures offered by critics of the current methods. In addition to relying on a segregated secondary school system, those alternatives are mechanistic and subvert the individualized, merit-based review used in the University of Chicago’s admissions process. They would be both “infeasible and ineffective.”

The universities explain that race is just one of many criteria used when evaluating prospective students. “Admission factors begin, of course, with the core academic criteria, including not just grades and test scores but teacher recommendations and state, regional, national, and international awards. Admissions officials give special attention to, among others, applicants from economically and/or culturally disadvantaged backgrounds, those with unusual athletic ability, those with special artistic talents, those who would be the first in their families to attend any college, those whose parents are alumni or alumnae, and those who have overcome various identifiable hardships. [They] also extend favorable consideration to applicants who write exceptionally well, to applicants who show a special dedication to public service, and to those who demonstrate unusual promise in a wide variety of fields.”

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. Rather than imposing a unitary, top-down model of how to be race-conscious enough without being too race-conscious, the Court should preserve the flexibility of universities to pursue carefully calibrated admissions policies designed to promote student diversity and the vital educational benefits that flow from it.”

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the Michigan cases on Tuesday, April 1st. A decision is expected by summer. For the full text of the brief, click here.
Last modified at 05:06 PM CST on Monday, April 14, 2003.

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