Distributed February 18, 2003
For Immediate Release

News Service Contact: Mark Nickel

Race as a factor in admission

Brown and seven universities file amicus brief in U-Michigan cases

Brown University joined seven other academically selective universities in filing an amicus curiae brief today supporting the University of Michigan in cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. The brief supports the right of colleges and universities to consider race and ethnicity as part of an individualized admission process.

See also pdf files of Cover page | Table of contents | Text of the brief.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Brown University has joined Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Chicago, Duke and the University of Pennsylvania in an amicus curiae brief supporting the University of Michigan in two cases now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

At issue in these cases is whether a college or university may consider an applicant’s race as a factor in making admission decisions. In separate cases involving the law school and the undergraduate college, plaintiffs charge that the University of Michigan denied them admission because its policies confer an advantage on applicants who are members of a racial minority.

In their brief, Brown and the other institutions urge the Supreme Court justices to sustain “the judicially recognized and constitutionally grounded tradition of academic freedom, and the deeply ingrained practice of deference to educators’ judgments on educational matters.” That includes, the brief continues, the “well-supported assessment that individualized consideration of race and ethnicity in the admissions process is the best way to enable ... universities to perform their broad educational function.”

“By almost all accounts, our institutions of higher learning have benefited enormously from greater diversity in their student bodies, faculty and staff,” said Brown President Ruth J. Simmons. “The greater variety of backgrounds, life experiences, political positions, social perspectives and personal aspirations on their campuses has allowed the nation’s colleges and universities to better prepare students for lives in an international, multicultural world.”

In its support for the right of Michigan and all colleges and universities to consider race and ethnicity in their admission processes, the brief asserts:

  • Since the Bakke decision in 1978, colleges and universities have been free to give favorable consideration to race and ethnicity when they make individualized decisions about applicants.
  • Diversity is a positive element in the educational mission of colleges and universities, helping students to think more rigorously and imaginatively about perspectives other than their own.
  • The task of training future leaders for a multi-ethnic society benefits from more diverse campuses. Every major profession has called for greater diversity within its ranks; businesses need highly trained managers who can work well with colleagues and subordinates from diverse backgrounds.
  • The main impetus for developing a broadly representative student body is not to remedy past injustice but to assure that educational programs are forward-looking and inclusive.
  • University officials must have the ultimate responsibility to define what the university shall be, what kind of education it will offer, and who will attend.
  • Giving favorable consideration to minority race and ethnicity as part of a process that excludes no one on account of race does not use race in a segregative or constitutionally problematic way.
  • Suggestions that universities achieve diversity by considering “race-neutral” factors like economic disadvantage do not serve the interest of developing racial and ethnic diversity. Such economic factors are already part of the admission process.
  • Admission officers give special attention to many factors, including economic disadvantage, unusual athletic ability, distinctive artistic or musical talent, significant hardships that have been overcome, and familial experience with higher education as well as academic achievement and aptitude. No one factor, including minority race, is conclusive.
  • Guaranteed admission plans, such as those based on rank in class, are unworkable for small, academically selective universities and have a limited effect on minority admission. Last year, nearly 2,900 valedictorians applied for a Harvard freshman class of 2,066.
  • Properly designed admissions programs that consider race and ethnicity differ from quotas because they preserve individual consideration for all applicants regardless of race and do not bar any slot to any individual because of race.

Finally, the brief does not assert that any group, including African Americans, has a right to proportionate representation. It does, however, assert that carefully tailored action by universities to achieve substantial and meaningful inclusion violates no right on the part of others nor does it violate any constitutional or statutory commitment of our society.

“Colleges and universities now have a clear self-interest in recruiting student bodies that are broadly representative of our multicultural nation,” Simmons said. “Our nation will be best served when our institutions of higher learning are left free to do so.”