On October 10, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about whether the University of Texas exceeded its right to consider race and ethnicity in its admissions decisions (Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin). Institutions of higher education flooded the Supreme Court with amici curiae briefs supporting the University of Texas. Middlebury joined with other liberal arts colleges in filing a brief because the court’s decision could have significant ramifications for higher education.
Many—and as time goes on, more and more—consider it imperative to create diverse campus communities using as many facets as possible (race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, religion, worldview, country of origin, gender identity, and so on), so that our students can engage others who reflect the real world, and so experience the global environment they will live in for the rest of their lives.
Furthermore, as our brief notes (see pages 27-30), researchers have demonstrated that diversity improves learning outcomes, resulting in significant gains in educational attainment for both white students and students of color; it also leads to curricular and pedagogical innovations. Achieving wide-ranging diversity on campus requires us to look at, among many things, race and ethnicity. Not only must we admit students who can excel academically but also who, taken as a group, will make our community well rounded.
The Supreme Court affirmed in 2003 that colleges may use race and ethnicity in a limited way to ensure diversity on their campuses. Because Texas University, as a public Texas institution, must admit any applicant who graduates in the top 10 percent of his/her high school class, and because many Texas high schools are composed of large populations of various ethnic groups, the university can achieve racial diversity almost automatically.
The attorneys for Abigail Fisher, the student who filed the complaint, contend that race should not be considered for students who fall below the top 10 percent because the university already has a means to achieve racial diversity.
The court may decide to rule narrowly about this question—just focusing on Texas and the 10 percent policy. Or, as some fear, it could decide the issue more broadly and overturn its 2003 decision.
At Middlebury, we feel very strongly that our extraordinary liberal arts education is anchored in having the rich diversity we have on our campus. October 10 will be the beginning of a national discussion about this topic, and I encourage you to pay attention.
This issue is not without complexity, and both sides have honest and sincere reasons for their positions. You can read more about this in an article in Inside Higher Ed, which contains numerous links to other documents and articles. It’s a subject that is highly relevant to all of us, and I welcome hearing your views.
—Shirley M. Collado