University files brief on affirmative action

By Joel Lanceta

In a brief filed to the Supreme Court Monday, the University of Chicago argued that considering race in university admissions has substantial educational benefits. Harvard, Yale, Brown, Dartmouth, Duke, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania collaborated on the brief that was filed in the University of Michigan affirmative action case. While Grutter v. Bollinger will not directly affect Chicago’s admissions policies, University officials said Chicago and other private institutions have a vested interest in the outcome because of their own admissions goals.

Also on Monday, nearly 14,000 law students nationwide, including 130 from the U of C, and the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT), which included the signatures of several professors at the Law School, filed similar briefs on behalf of Michigan highlighting the specific necessity of affirmative action in law school admissions.

The briefs come a month after President George W. Bush announced that his staff would file a brief against the University of Michigan’s policies, which Bush believes give unfair weight to an applicant’s race.

While racial quotas have been declared unconstitutional, the 1978 Supreme Court decision Bakke v. Regents of California Board of Education concluded that the importance of racial diversity was so vital to the nation that universities could consider race in admissions decisions.

“Academically selective universities have a compelling interest in ensuring that their student bodies incorporate the experiences and talents of the wide spectrum of racial and ethnic groups that make up our society,” states the brief filed by the University. “[Colleges] should be free to compose a class that brings together many different kinds of students; that includes robust representation of students from different races and ethnicities; and that prepares graduates to work successfully in a diverse nation.”

University administrators, including President Don Randel and Michael Behnke, vice president and dean of College enrollment, have been vocal in their support for the policy in place at Michigan.

“The modern world requires that people of fundamentally different intellectual and cultural perspectives be capable of engaging one another productively. A university education that fails to take account of this is a dismal failure,” Randel said of the reasoning behind the University’s filing of the brief.

There may be more amicus curiae briefs filed in this case than any other case filed before the Supreme Court.

The Law Student brief was drafted by a group of students at Georgetown University Law Center and signed by 13,922 law students at 143 ABA-accredited law schools in 41 states. Jennifer Marion, a law student at the University of Chicago Law School, helped gather 130 signatures from Chicago students.

“I think the University’s pro-affirmative action stance reflects the belief that a diverse student body is an important element of a well-rounded college education,” Marion said. “This diversity includes educational and socioeconomic background, as well as life experiences in general.

“In general, I think affirmative action’s benefits are twofold. First, it contributes to a diverse student body, something that benefits all members of the university community. Second, it helps to remedy past practices of segregation–both de jure and de facto–and discrimination,” she said.

Craig Futterman, assistant clinical professor in the Law School, signed the SALT brief because of his belief that racial prejudice is still prevalent.

“In state schools and private schools without affirmative action, minority enrollment decrease substantially,” he said. “Discrimination still exists, and it needs to be remedied. You can’t remedy racial discrimination without taking race into account.”

Although the University’s admissions process will not be affected by the Supreme Court case, as it only concerns public universities, Futterman agrees with the University’s involvement.

“We recognized a diverse student body–having diversity in the classroom–enhances education for all,” he said. “Because we care about education of all [students], it’s not such a narrow interest. We care about education for all people.”

Currently, the Class of 2004 for the Law School has a student body consisting of 12% Asian Americans, 9% Hispanic Americans, and 5% African Americans.

The University’s undergraduates have also generally expressed support for policies like those at the University of Michigan, or at least for admissions policies that take race into account.

” I agree with the [University’s position],” said first-year in the College Jonathan Humphreys. “It’s not necessarily about taking a minority and putting out the non-minority as it is achieving a diverse student body.”

The Supreme Court will hear the Grutter v. Bollinger case on April 1.