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Diversity and Inclusion are Fundamental to the Mission of Higher Education


It is critical that universities continue to be afforded the appropriate discretion to make thoughtful judgments on who to admit and how best to conduct higher education.

There exists an inextricable link between diversity, equity, and educational excellence. Diversity in education equalizes opportunity, educates all sectors of society, and enriches the educational experiences of all students by introducing differing perspectives, cultures, and ideas. Insights gained from these perspectives are central to higher education.

Social science research finds that when confronted with challenging problems, groups of people with diverse backgrounds and views perform better than those with like backgrounds and views, even when the latter group consists of those deemed to be the best individual performers. [1] Another study found that “strong emphasis on diversity” is associated with “widespread beneficial effects on a student’s cognitive and affective development.” [2]

Yet, there is no single approach to achieving diversity in higher education. What works for one university may not work for another. There is no substitute for the careful consideration of many factors in a competitive admissions process. It is therefore critical that universities continue to be afforded discretion to make thoughtful judgments on who to admit and how best to conduct higher education.

As the U.S. Supreme Court declared in Sweezy v. New Hampshire (1957), it is “the right of the university to determine for itself, on academic grounds, who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study.” This academic autonomy has allowed U.S. universities to offer opportunities for students to learn from and interact with peers with different backgrounds and perspectives, which is essential to educating and training future leaders in the 21 st Century global economy.

Over the years, this historical latitude has been challenged by those who misunderstand or disagree with university policies. I became President of the University of Michigan in 2002, when two lawsuits were pending against the university alleging our undergraduate and law school admissions processes unlawfully gave preferential treatment to minorities.[3] The two suits,Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) and Gratz v. Bollinger (2003), were mounted on behalf of rejected white applicants. In Grutter, the Court held that fostering diversity in higher education is a compelling government interest and that race may be used as a plus factor in admissions decisions along with other individualized factors.

Already a staunch proponent for diversity in admissions, defending the University of Michigan put my beliefs into practice. In the final stages of these cases, I engaged countless stakeholders, including many who disagreed with our admissions policies. I greatly respected and appreciated their points of view but reiterated these principles that are so important fundamental to higher education.

We rejoiced in 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the Grutter andGratz decisions in Fisher v. University of Texas (2015). In the Court’s opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, he observes that the Court’s affirmation of the University’s policy does not excuse the institution from “constant deliberation and continued reflection” regarding its admissions policies. Our universities should and do continually assess the efficacy and impacts of university policies to serve our students better. What will not change, however, is our commitment to upholding these principles of diversity, equity, and academic excellence. To those principles, we remain dedicated.

[1] Page, Scott E., The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, 14 (Princeton University Press 2007).

[2] Alexander W. Astin, Diversity and Multiculturalism on the Campus: How are Students Affected? 25 Change 44, 45 (Mar./Apr. 1993).

[3] As a trained biochemist, I never imagined that a landmark constitutional law case would be the highlight of my career.