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>  News Releases >   2003 >   February

Dartmouth urges U.S. Supreme Court to uphold diversity in admissions

Posted 02/17/03

Dartmouth College today urged the U.S. Supreme Court to reaffirm its 1978 decision permitting universities to consider racial and ethnic diversity in the admissions process. Dartmouth presented its position in a friend of the court brief filed jointly with seven other universities in two cases challenging the University of Michigan's undergraduate and law school admissions systems.

Consideration of race and ethnicity in admissions, the brief asserts, has "served compelling pedagogical interests by contributing to a diverse and inclusive educational experience, teaching students to view issues from multiple perspectives, and helping to break down prejudices and stereotyped assumptions."

"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 compose our society," the brief observes. "By creating a broadly diverse class, [university] admissions policies help to assure that their graduates are well prepared to succeed in an increasingly complex and multi-racial society."

Citing principles of academic freedom, the brief urges the Supreme Court to "respect the institutional competence" of universities to determine the most appropriate means to achieve student body diversity. "Rather than imposing a unitary, top-down model" of race-conscious admissions, the brief states, "the Court should preserve the flexibility of universities to pursue carefully calibrated admissions policies designed to promote student diversity and the vital educational benefits that flow from it."

In addition to Dartmouth, the universities submitting the brief included Brown, Chicago, Duke, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale. The brief was prepared by Professor Lawrence Tribe of Harvard Law School.

"One of the great success stories in American life over the last 30 or 40 years has been the expansion of opportunities for higher education to all qualified students," said Dartmouth President James Wright. "Surely Dartmouth has participated in this and has been significantly enriched by expanding our pool of prospective students. Students learn from one another and the more diverse the student body and, indeed, the faculty and staff, the richer our learning environment is. Our academic work, our learning, our conversations across the campus are more complex and full, are more challenging and stimulating, because of the diversity of our campus population. This experience helps to prepare Dartmouth students for the rich and complicated and challenging world into which they graduate."

Last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the University of Michigan's use of race in its law school admissions system. Previously, the United States District Court upheld Michigan's undergraduate admissions system. The plaintiffs in both cases asked the Supreme Court to review the decisions.

The Supreme Court has not addressed the use of race and ethnicity in college admissions since its 1978 decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. In that case, the Court overturned the University of California at Davis Medical School's admissions system on the grounds that its allocation of 16 of 100 entering places for disadvantaged non-white students was unlawful. A tie-breaking decision by Justice Lewis Powell, however, held that colleges could consider race as one factor, alongside other factors, in order to achieve the educational benefits that flow from student body diversity.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the Michigan cases on April 1. A decision is expected by summer.

The enhancement of education and preparation for leadership through diversity has long been an important goal of Dartmouth. Attracting students from all segments of society and from abroad has been a key to fulfilling Dartmouth's commitment to intellectual vibrancy and inquisitiveness. The Dartmouth undergraduate student body is nearly evenly divided between men and women. Students of color make up 31 percent of the current first-year class.

To assemble its diverse student body, Dartmouth's admissions office follows closely the approach approved by Justice Powell in Bakke. It makes a flexible individualized assessment of each candidate, taking into account a variety of accomplishments, interests and backgrounds. There is no set formula or prescription for admission. A candidate's ethnic background is only one of a wide range of factors bearing on his or her potential to contribute to the College community, and only then in the context of their other academic and personal qualifications.

For More Information

Read the full text of Dartmouth's friend of the court brief that was filed jointly with seven other universities.

- amicus.brief.pdf (464K pdf)

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