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Updated 1:00 PM June 24, 2003



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The legal team: Jonathan Alger

Quite often, Assistant General Counsel Jonathan Alger is the public face of the University's legal position. He addresses numerous local and national groups about the value of diversity and U-M's strong defense of affirmative action.

After a recent speaking engagement at a Southfield (Mich.) Youth Symposium, where hundreds of high school students were gathered, Alger says he heard from the very people whose lives will be affected by the Supreme Court's decision.

Jonathan Alger was gratified to hear from so many people who supported U-M's defense of its admissions policies. (Photo by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services)

"To have young students, including young students of color who are in high school thinking about college, come up to you and say, 'we really appreciate what you are doing and just want you to know that the University is an encouragement to us'—that's really gratifying and it reminds us of the importance of these issues in individuals' lives."

Alger says hearing from many individuals and organizations who appreciate and support the University's position, and seeing the commitment of so many at U-M to the cause of diversity, have made the hectic work of defending the cases rewarding.

"The fact that the University has been steadfast in standing up for the concept that diversity reinforces excellence—that diversity and excellence go hand in hand—has been very important to me personally and to the entire legal team. It has required courage on the part of the leadership, faculty and students, to stand up when we knew we were being challenged."

Alger came to the University three years. Like many on the U-M legal team, work in affirmative action law is not new to him. He came to the University from the American Association of University Professors, where he was involved in writing an amicus brief in support of U-M's cases. He has written and spoken extensively on these issues, and his work is cited in some of the briefs filed with the court. He also served as a senior attorney-advisor in the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, where his work included policy development and coordination of cases involving affirmative action, racial and sexual harassment, and free speech. He is a graduate of Swarthmore College and Harvard Law School.

In addition, Alger coordinated the participation of the many organizations that filed briefs on the University's behalf. All along, but particularly when the cases headed to the Supreme Court, hundreds of organizations came forward to support the University's position.

"Part of our job was to coordinate all of them and to get them to work together, whenever possible, because our goal was not to flood the court with briefs but to try to get as many of the arguments covered as possible, and to have different perspectives brought to bear."

The end result was the most extensive set of briefs ever filed on a case in Supreme Court history, 75 distinct briefs in all, representing thousands of organizations, institutions and individuals.

Alger says the work of the legal team will continue even now that the court has rendered its decisions.

"For many of us it has been a long haul and an exhausting one. Yet the best thing we can do is not rest on our laurels, but to embrace the victory and think of how we can continue to create opportunities for all students."

He says the University must continue to be a leader in making sure students have opportunities to learn in a diverse environment.

"One of the important byproducts of this litigation is the kind of cooperation we've seen with corporate America, with professions like law and medicine, and with elementary and secondary schools. Going forward, we must focus on how to get those different segments of society to work together on the issues and improve the pipeline to address some of the inequities that continue to exist in our educational system. Win or lose, that kind of coordination and creative thinking among different types of organizations and institutions is one of the best things to come out of the litigation, and I think that kind of cooperation will continue."

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