OP-EDS

  /  

February 21, 2003

A principled stand

The University of Chicago, along with seven other private universities, recently filed an amicus curiae brief in the ongoing Supreme Court battle to overturn the Bakke case, as it pertains to affirmative action in admissions at the University of Michigan. It bears noting that the University of Chicago as an entity is only permitted to make such political proclamations under certain circumstances. The Kalven Committee's 1967 "Report on the University's Role in Political and Social Action" delimits these situations:

"From time to time instances will arise in which the society, or segments of it, threaten the very mission of the university and its values of free inquiry. In such a crisis, it becomes the obligation of an institution to oppose such measures and actively to defend its interests and its values." The Kalven Report has served the University well since 1967, and this case is a notable non-exception to this trend.

President Randel's decision, made in concert with other key University officials, to define the movement to overturn Bakke as a threat to "the very mission of the university" demonstrates the gravity of this situation. The universities signing this brief, Chicago for certain and the others by extension, view the fight to preserve affirmative action not as a specific issue of politics but as an abstract acid test of the political freedom of universities, public and private. Forgetting for a moment the details of the ongoing debate over affirmative action, the University of Chicago has taken a stand against the notion of government meddling in private affairs. The principles of free debate and education demand a specific freedom "to fulfill their profound responsibility: educating a diverse array of talented students to reason rigorously," as the brief ably phrases the point. Those opposed to affirmative action may take this brief as a violation of the spirit and possibly the letter of the Kalven Report, but the University has an obligation, given in point of fact by the Kalven Committee, to contravene whenever and wherever its freedom is threatened. It is from an acknowledgment of duty that the University has spoken out in such a heavily politicized case.