Professor remains active in lawsuit
defense after retirement
By Katie Gazella
When Patricia Gurin and her colleagues began researching the benefits
of racial and ethnic diversity a few years ago, they had little
foundation on which to build.
Many people assumed diversity was healthy for students on college
campuses. But not much concrete evidence had been collected in a
“There hadn’t really been a theoretical argument,”
Gurin says. “It was taken for granted that it was good for
After attorneys defending the admissions lawsuits approached Gurin
and her colleagues, they gathered national and campus-wide data
about the effects of diversity. They created a report that ultimately
became a backbone of the University’s defense of the law school
and undergraduate lawsuits.
Gurin retired at the end of August from active faculty status and
her job as chair of the Department of Psychology. But she will remain
active as research director for Intergroup Relations, Conflict &
Community (IGRCC) on campus. She also will continue her work with
the lawsuits as she and colleagues respond to criticisms of the
research from the plaintiffs’ supporters.
The research is commonly referred to as the Gurin Report, although
Gurin is quick to point out that three others from the School of
Education did the research with her: Sylvia Hurtado, associate professor;
Eric Dey, the associate dean and an associate professor; and Gerald
Gurin, her husband, a professor emeritus.
The report, produced in 1998, relied on a national study by the
University of California, Los Angeles, which followed a group of
entering students from 1985 through their senior year and again
in 1994. The report also looked at two U-M studies, one of which
looked at the entering class of 1990 and is known as the Michigan
Student Study. The other is a sub-study of that, which evaluated
students who elected to be part of IGRCC and a matched group who
were not in the program.
The Gurin Report found that diversity has positive effects for all
students, both in their education and in a category Gurin calls
“democracy outcomes.” The students who learned in diverse
environments were found to participate more fully in society after
graduation, and they were more likely to live and work in diverse
But students can’t simply be in a diverse environment to benefit,
the research found. They have to actively think about diversity
and to have quality interactions with diverse peers, Gurin says.
“It’s not enough just to be here,” she says.
A key finding of the research is that diversity doesn’t just
help one group of people.
“Pat and her colleagues have shown there are benefits to all
students,” says Jonathan Alger, assistant general counsel
for the University and part of the legal team handling the two admissions
cases. “That word ‘all’ is very important.”
The report has been extremely helpful to the defense of the cases,
“What courts are looking for at the end of the day is evidence,”
Alger says. “That’s what we have here. ... It gets beyond
assumptions and anecdotes.”
Gurin was prepared to testify in both cases but never was called
as a witness. While the research is part of the record in both cases,
the law school case only had a limited trial, and the undergraduate
case did not go to trial because it was decided on summary judgment.
The National Association of Scholars, which has filed briefs supporting
the plaintiffs, has criticized the Gurin Report and disagrees with
the conclusion that student racial diversity is a compelling governmental
interest. Gurin and the other researchers have prepared responses
and will continue to do so, she says.
Meanwhile, Gurin has been asked to speak around the country about
why diversity is important. At IGRCC, she continues to work with
the research about race and diversity.
The goal, she says, is to “understand how students come to
understand a huge fault line in our country, which is race in America.”