Coleman highlights University admission
“A great deal hangs in the balance right here, right now,”
President Mary Sue Coleman said as she detailed the University’s
brief filed the week of February 17 with the Supreme Court.
|Coleman (Photo by Marcia Ledford, U-M Photo Services)
The crux of the University’s position on affirmative action, Coleman
said, is the compelling interest diversity has in enriching the lives
of all students. As it has argued in lower courts, U-M will make the case
for race-conscious admissions by citing research that shows students learn
better when there is diversity in the classroom.
“They are more analytical, and more engaged,” Coleman said
during an appearance via satellite before the American Council on Education
(ACE) Feb. 17. “The teaching environment is more enlightening. The
discussion is livelier and more representative of real-world issues. These
students are more open to perspectives that are different from their own,
and they are better prepared to become active participants in our society.”
While much of the University’s brief focuses on the benefits of
diversity, Coleman said it also contains some language intended to address
misconceptions created, in part, by President George W. Bush’s characterization
of the University’s policies as quotas. Coleman said the University’s
admissions policies are in keeping the Bakke case (1978), which does not
allow for quotas or set asides.
“Each student is considered individually, and every applicant’s
qualifications are weighed fairly and competitively,” Coleman said.
Race is one of many factors considered in admissions, she said.
“Our policies are moderate, fair and carefully considered, and designed
to achieve the diversity we feel is critical without jeopardizing our
high academic standards or creating disadvantage for other important factors.”
Coleman went on to explain why other types of programs do not work. In
particular, she criticized percent plans used in California, Texas and
Florida, which cull the top students from each high school to be guaranteed
admission. Such plans, she said, rely on segregation within schools.
“We dare not—we must not—create public policy that works
only if our country’s school systems remain segregated,” she
Further, Coleman cited two recent Harvard studies that showed percentage
plans do little to improve the numbers of minority students at the more
highly selective institutions in those states that have them.
Coleman concluded her remarks by pointing to another institution that
has used affirmative action to diversify—the United States military.
She cited tensions in the military during the Vietnam era when the majority
of officers were white and the enlisted ranks were diverse.
“It fueled a breakdown of order that was dangerous, destructive,
and that endangered the military’s ability to do its job,”
Today, minorities make up 40 percent of the enlisted ranks and 19 percent
of officers. “We have made great strides, but the branches are still
concerned about the gap in representation between enlisted ranks and officers,”
Coleman said. “The Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Marines
rely on the ability to take race into account in our ROTC programs and
at their highly selective service academies.”
“This case is not about college admissions policies alone. Nor is
it simply about important matters of constitutional law. It touches every
major sector of our country, and the outcome will influence the direction
of America’s public policy,” Coleman said.
“We simply cannot handcuff our country’s major institutions
in their efforts to seek both quality and diversity. We are asking the
United States Supreme Court not to turn back the clock, because our country
depends on the education and the integration that we worked so hard as
a nation to achieve and that in many ways defines our greatness as a society.”
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