University files amicus brief in support of Harvard, UNC

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The University of Michigan has filed an amicus brief in support of Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, two universities at the center of a lawsuit looking to remove the consideration of race in college and university admissions.

Students for Fair Admissions Inc. argued that Harvard and UNC’s admissions policies were unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment and unlawful under federal law for considering race and ethnicity as one factor in their admissions process in the pursuit of enhancing the diversity of the academic community.

“The University of Michigan is firmly convinced of the educational benefits of racial diversity as one component of a broadly diverse student body. … Racial diversity benefits the exchange and development of ideas by increasing students’ variety of perspectives; promotes cross-racial understanding and dispels racial stereotypes; and helps prepare students to be leaders in a global marketplace and increasingly multicultural society,” states the amicus, or “friend of the court,” brief filed by the Office of the Vice President and General Counsel.

Both Harvard and UNC have filed response briefs in their respective cases. The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear both cases this fall.

U-M previously saw victories in 2003 when the Supreme Court upheld the right of universities to consider race in admissions procedures. In two lawsuits challenging U-M’s admissions policies, the court ruled in favor of the Law School and voted 6-3 to partially reverse the university’s undergraduate policy, while still allowing for the consideration of race in admissions.

In Michigan, the rulings were effectively superseded in November 2006, when voters passed a state constitutional amendment that restricted the university from considering race in admissions decisions.

Since then, U-M has seen a marked and sustained drop in minority enrollment, especially among the most underrepresented groups — Black and Native American students — whose enrollment has fallen by 44% and 90%, respectively. 

“This reduction in diversity not only denies students the educational benefits of a diverse campus, it negatively affects students’ wellbeing,” the brief states.

The brief then argues that “despite U-M’s demonstrated commitment to student body diversity, and despite having spent more than a decade successfully enrolling substantially more socio-economically disadvantaged students, race-neutral admissions policies have not significantly increased enrollment of underrepresented minorities.”

Further, the brief argues, “Admissions officers should be able to consider race in some circumstances in order to be attentive to the distinctive characteristics of individual applicants.”

It concludes that, “To identify promising candidates effectively, admissions officers must be able to consider the fullness of each applicant’s background and experience, including socio-economic profile, challenges overcome, cultural background—and also the applicant’s race. Fostering the promise of individualism in admissions sometimes requires, rather than forbids, thoughtful attention to facts about race to ensure that each applicant is evaluated as an individual.”

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