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Friends of U-M make strong showing with Supreme Court


A canceled trip to Washington, D.C., because of a huge winter storm did not prevent President Mary Sue Coleman from previewing affirmative action briefs to be filed this week with the Supreme Court of the United States. By teleconference from Crisler Arena Feb. 17, Coleman told members of the American Council on Education that the University’s written statement, and those from several friends of U-M, could represent the largest number of briefs filed on a single issue in the history of the high court.

“We will be joined by over 300 organizations filing more than 60 amicus briefs in support of the University,” Coleman told the crowd. “I want to give you a sense of who they are: They represent universities, faculty and more than 13,900 law students across the country; over 63 Fortune 500 corporations; the AFL-CIO, the UAW and the NEA (National Education Association); the American Bar Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges; dozens of civil rights and religious organizations; 23 states, many members of Congress and more than two dozen high-ranking military and civilian defense officials.”

A number of representatives of those organizations were available following the conference to highlight key messages in their briefs. The participants and their remarks include:

• Charles M. Vest, president, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)—“I want to assure the court that America’s private universities fully share the interests of Michigan in this case. …The diverse workforce and future leadership in science and engineering will be essential to our nation’s future economic strength.” The brief Vest filed on behalf of MIT also was signed by Stanford University, DuPont Corp., IBM, the National Academy of Science, the National Academy of Engineering and the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering.

• Kenneth C. Frazier, senior vice president and general counsel, Merck & Co. Inc.—“From a pragmatic business perspective, diversity has tremendous value as the source of a competitive advantage for American businesses. Simply put: diversity creates stronger companies.”

• Cecilia Munoz, vice president for the Office of Research, Advocacy and Legislation, National Council of La Raza, and U-M alumna—“In the early 80s when I was there, roughly 4 percent of the student population were African American, and in my four years at the University I met exactly one other Latino on the campus. The year that I graduated, 1984, the incoming freshman class of nearly 4,000 students had 20 Latino students, which is roughly one half on one percent of the total population of that class. I’m very happy and proud that in the years since I was there, the University succeeded in increasing the diversity of its student body. Today, 8 percent of the student population is African American and nearly 5 percent is Latino. And the University is a different place as a result. The richness of the student experience and the educational experience has changed dramatically.”

• Adm. Dennis C. Blair, senior fellow, Institute for Defense Analyses, and former commander in chief, U.S. Pacific Command—“In our officer corps, which is drawn from undergraduate institutions, we do not have the proportion of minorities commensurate to those in the enlisted ranks. We are missing talented people who could be serving their country.” Blair represents a brief filed on behalf of 29 top ranking military leaders, including: Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, retired astronaut; William Cohen, the 20th secretary of defense; Adm. William J. Crowe, retired four-star and the 11th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee; Robert “Bud” McFarlane, retired Marine Corps officer and former national security advisor under Ronald Reagan; William J. Perry, 19th secretary of defense; and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, retired four-star and commander of the Allied Forces for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

• Joseph Reeder, 14th undersecretary of the Army, whose responsibilities included oversight of admissions to the U.S. Military Academy and ROTC programs at universities—“As Admiral Blair pointed out, the enlisted rank is about 40 percent minority. It is hugely diverse. And those minority troops—sailors, marines, soldiers, airmen—don’t have to be commanded by another minority. But they certainly have to know that there are other minorities—role models—for them to look up to.”

• Wade Henderson, executive director, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights—“The need for colleges and universities to prepare outstanding people of diverse backgrounds for leadership is a judgment that policy makers and educators have reached, which the Supreme Court has no reason to second guess. ... Our nation faces tremendous challenges in forging national unity out of the most diverse population in this world. And while there is no one solution to this challenge, it is clear that the alternatives offered by the petitioners offer no solution at all.”

• Dr. Jordan J. Cohen, president and chief executive officer, Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)—“If the schools that train our country’s doctors and health professionals are to meet their most fundamental obligation to society, which is to prepare individuals who can offer the best care for all Americans, then these institutions must be allowed to use affirmative action when selecting students—at least for the foreseeable future. With each passing year, America becomes a more multi-racial and multi-cultural society, and the quality of available healthcare will depend not only on the scientific competence of future physicians, but on their cultural competence as well. Consequently, the medical students of today must be immersed in learning environments that reflect diversity…” The AAMC represents 126 U.S. and 16 Canadian accredited medical schools, some 400 teaching hospitals, more than 105,000 faculty in 92 academic and scientific societies, and the nation’s 66,000 medical students and 97,000 residents.

• Law student David Fauvre, Georgetown University—“Our brief, filed on behalf of 13,922 law students, asserts that not only is affirmative action constitutional but that it imparts invaluable benefits to law students of all races… A diverse student body exposes all law students to an open, robust and creative exchange of ideas...” Fauvre represents 139 accredited law schools from 41 states and the District of Columbia.

• Law student Marisa Bono, U-M—“Learning in a diverse environment prepares every law student to practice effectively in an increasingly diverse society. Although everyone comes to law school with their own personal experiences, minority law students understand and experience the impact of the law in ways different from the majority. Without a meaningful presence of students of color, the University of Michigan will struggle to maintain the robust exchange of ideas that is critical for today’s legal education.” Bono represents the Coalition of Minority Groups at U-M.

• David Ward, president of the American Council on Education (ACE)—“There are very strong parallels between the case made by the military and the needs of civil society. This case largely affects the most competitive, and if I might say the most elite, colleges in the country. … It is the leadership of our country that is put at risk because it is the 25 or 35 most competitive academic institutions that, in effect, are most profoundly affected by the plaintiff’s case.” ACE represents 1,800 member institutions and is considered the major coordinating body for higher education in the United States. Its brief also represents 54 national higher education associations.

Also joining Coleman on the ACE agenda were Lee Pelton, president of Willamette College in Oregon and Brit Kirwan, president of University of Maryland. Pelton told a personal story of affirmative action, calling it “a small gesture that has made a big difference in my life.” Pelton said he prepared for college around the time the 1978 Bakke case was decided. “Affirmative action was one of several factors that shaped who I am today,” he said. “[It] affirmed the faith that others had shown in me.”

Kirwan said higher education “represents our nation’s best hope for tolerance. … Yes, we all would like to live in an America where race and ethnicity do not matter,” he said, “[But] the search for true equality for all is a continuing journey.”

For more information on organizations filing on behalf of the University, visit http://www.umich.edu/~urel/admissions/statements/#support. The actual briefs can be found at http://www.umich.edu/~urel/admissions/legal/amicus.html.

Related story: Coleman highlights University admissions brief>

 

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