Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a pair of decisions on affirmative action programs at the University of Michigan that, despite different rulings, support the admissions policies of Harvard and other colleges and universities that use race as one of many factors in creating a diverse college class.
In the June 23 decisions, the Supreme Court upheld the University of Michigan Law School’s general use of race as a plus factor in an individualized admissions process, but struck down the university’s specific undergraduate admissions policy that awarded a fixed number of points to every minority applicant from certain minority groups.
The ruling will not affect Harvard College’s admissions policies, which have long considered race along with many other factors to assemble a diverse class of incoming students. Justices and attorneys referred to Harvard’s undergraduate admissions plan as a model and cited Harvard research that demonstrates the benefits of student body diversity in higher education.
“While the two decisions reach different results, their paramount significance for our community is that the court’s pivotal opinion embraces the core principles that have long informed Harvard’s approach to admissions,” said Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers in a statement on the day of the decision.
“A majority of the court, in the (Law School) case, unequivocally recognizes the essential educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body. It recognizes that ‘the path to leadership’ should be ‘visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity.’ And it confirms that universities are entitled to substantial deference on matters at the heart of their academic mission, such as the selection of their students,” he said.
“Perhaps most important, the court explicitly upholds the right of universities to pursue student diversity through carefully designed admissions programs that flexibly consider each applicant as an individual and that properly treat race as one among a broad array of factors that may be taken into account. As Justice Powell did in the Bakke case a quarter century ago, Justice O’Connor cites Harvard College’s careful and flexible approach to admissions as a model – an approach in which ‘all factors that may contribute to student body diversity are meaningfully considered alongside race in admissions decisions,'” said Summers.
“The affirmation of these principles is as heartening as it is important. We all share a vital stake in the education of citizens and leaders for a diverse society. I am pleased the court has affirmed policies like ours that promote compelling educational interests in inclusiveness. We will continue to pursue those interests with energy and care, so we can provide our students with the best possible education and prepare them to contribute to society.”