Columbia, 13 Universities File Supreme Court Amicus Brief Supporting Consideration of Race in Admissions

August 14, 2012

Columbia and 13 other leading universities filed an amicus brief Monday in "Fisher v. University of Texas," a case revisiting whether universities may consider race, as one of several factors, in assembling a diverse student body. The brief argues that the efforts undertaken by the University of Texas to assemble a racially diverse undergraduate student body comply with the constitutional standards established in 2003 by "Grutter v. Bollinger," the U.S. Supreme Court’s definitive holding on affirmative action in U.S. higher education. The "Fisher" case will be heard by the Supreme Court on Oct. 10.

The Supreme Court’s core holding in "Grutter v. Bollinger" was that diversity is a compelling educational interest. Citing Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s statement for the Grutter majority that the educational benefits of diversity “are not theoretical but real,” the universities’ amicus brief in Fisher explains that “[d]iversity encourages students to question their assumptions, to understand that wisdom and contributions to society may be found where not expected, and to gain an appreciation of the complexity of the modern world.”

“A move away from the court’s recognition in 'Grutter' of the ‘substantial’ and ‘laudable’ benefits of a diverse student body would be as damaging to higher education as it would be ill-timed for the nation at large,” said Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger, who, as president of the University of Michigan defended that institution's admissions policies in Grutter v. Bollinger. “The distance we have travelled in building a more integrated society out of a national past stained by slavery, Jim Crow laws and enduring discrimination is one of modern America’s greatest achievements, recognized with admiration by countries around the world confronting their own histories of racial and ethnic discord. The nation’s postsecondary academic institutions have been at the very heart of this transformation. As the amicus brief argues, producing the next generation of citizens and leaders is a core mission of our institutions, and the pedagogic concept of diversity is essential to preparing students for a nation and world that are becoming more complex. Creating this path to leadership is a goal embraced by the Supreme Court less than a decade ago in 'Grutter v. Bollinger.'”

The amicus brief filed by the United States in support of the University of Texas underscores this very point: “The Nation’s interests in a range of areas—including military readiness, national security, public health, federal law enforcement, global competitiveness and education—will be more readily achieved if the pathways to professional success are visibly open to all segments of American society.”

Columbia has long been committed to the view that when universities possess the freedom to assemble student bodies featuring multiple types of diversity and have the resources to support “need blind” admissions with full financial aid, the result is a highly sought-after learning environment that attracts the best students. Columbia’s undergraduate student body has the highest percentage of low- and moderate-income students and the largest number of military veterans of our peer institutions, as well as the highest percentage of African American students among the nation’s top 30 universities.

The petitioner in the case, Abigail Fisher, has claimed that she would have been admitted if the University of Texas had refrained from considering race in its admissions decisions and that her constitutional rights were harmed as a result.

Columbia was joined on the brief by Brown, the University of Chicago, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, MIT, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Stanford, Vanderbilt and Yale.