Diversity is an asset

Feb 252007
Authors: Daniel GibsonReinemer

The best universities in the world use race as one of many factors to enroll classes with diverse life experiences, geographical origins, ethnicities, and talents.

The New York Times reported several western states, including Colorado, may vote on measures banning the use of racial preferences next year. Voters in Michigan and California have already banned such use.

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the use of race in admissions to the University of Michigan in 2003, it received an unprecedented number of amicus curiae briefs, or briefs filed by outside parties for consideration, in favor of the practice. The Court ruled it unconstitutional to award admissions “points” on the basis of race, but upheld the use of race as one of many criteria colleges could examine.

Leaders from corporate America, the military, and academia were among those in favor of maintaining a diverse student body.

Boeing, ChevronTexaco, Lockheed Martin, Shell Oil, and over sixty more Fortune 500 companies represented the interests of a business community with annual revenues considerably in excess of one trillion dollars. With an eye on a healthy bottom line, they weighed in: “In the practical experience of the amici businesses, the need for diversity in higher education is indeed compelling.”

Dozens of former leaders of our military, including Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and two former Secretaries of Defense, saw a similar need for diversity. In their view, a “racially diverse officer corps . is essential to the military’s ability to fulfill its principal mission to provide national security.”

A chorus of America’s best colleges and law schools, as well as groups such as the National Academy of Sciences and the Graduate Management Admission Council, reached similar conclusions. To do justice to the breadth and scope of national leaders and groups who support race-sensitive admissions would require more space than this column permits.

But does it constitute discrimination? Only to the extent that colleges also discriminate on the basis of athletic talent, geography, family background, and financial contributions from an applicant’s family, to name a few.

Applying to state schools from my hometown, a wealthy suburb of D.C., I experienced the type of discrimination necessary to produce the best possible class of scholars and leaders. I was turned down at the most selective state schools while applicants from more rural areas with standardized test scores – an objective measure of talent – significantly less than mine were admitted.

They made the right choice.

Scores and grades are not the full measure of an applicant’s ability to enrich a school. The schools to which I applied, and the other accepted students, were better served by admitting bright minds from coal mining towns and family farms.

All colleges, but particularly public ones, have the responsibility to provide the best education possible to the most promising group of scholars it can attract.

The most prestigious colleges are proud to say their entering classes consist of international students, minorities, farm kids, prep school graduates, and students from every state in America. They understand the benefits the experience gives to students and are aware it bolsters their reputation; this is part of the diversity we cherish.

Former President Gerald Ford might have articulated the point best in a 1999 op-ed piece for the New York Times describing admissions at Michigan, his alma mater. “This eminently reasonable approach, as thoughtful as it is fair, has produced a student body with a significant minority component whose record of academic success is outstanding.”

When used as one factor in admissions, race strengthens our universities, produces the managers and leaders sought after by major corporations, and provides for a stronger, more unified military.

Daniel Gibson-Reinemer is a fishery and wildlife biology masters student. His column appears every Tuesday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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