The University of Chicago News Office
June 23, 2003 Press Contact: Larry Arbeiter
(773) 702-8360 (w)

The University of Chicago to continue historical efforts to build diverse student body as “crucial component” of education of its students

Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court to uphold its prior 1978 decision on affirmative action in admissions means that the University of Chicago will be able to maintain its historical commitment to creating a diverse student body. And because the University of Chicago has not used the numerical formulae disavowed in today’s ruling, its particular admissions procedures are also not expected to be adversely affected.

“We are pleased to see the Court’s reaffirmation of the Bakke decision, within which the University’s admissions policies have operated over the last two decades,” said Provost Richard Saller. “We will read the new opinions as soon as they become available and meet to discuss them in detail.”

The University of Chicago has believed for decades that diversity - racial and otherwise - is a vital component of its students’ educations. In this belief, it joins almost all other universities in this nation and long-standing policies of the U.S. government.

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 an Amicus brief written for the Michigan affirmative action case by the University of Chicago and seven other universities, the institutions 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.

“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,” the universities stated. “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 University of Chicago was joined in the brief by Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, and Duke universities, and the University of Pennsylvania.

The brief specifically urged 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 argued, enhance the educational experience within the classroom, broaden educational opportunities, and better prepare graduates to succeed in an increasingly multicultural world. The brief was one of more than 60 that were filed in support of the University of Michigan, perhaps the largest number ever in a case before the Supreme Court.

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

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

The University of Chicago also 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.

In the brief, the University of Chicago and its peers argued that the schools’ 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 stressed 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.”
Last modified at 01:22 PM CST on Monday, June 30, 2003.

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