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Professor remains active in lawsuit defense after retirement

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 systematic way.

“There hadn’t really been a theoretical argument,” Gurin says. “It was taken for granted that it was good for us.”

Gurin

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 environments.

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, he says.
“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.”


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