February 17, 2003

U-M to file Supreme Court briefs Tuesday;
will be joined by more than 300 organizations

WASHINGTON, D.C.—As the University of Michigan prepares to file its briefs in two affirmative action cases before the Supreme Court, plans are underway for at least 300 organizations to join in more than 60 amicus briefs on the University's behalf.

U-M President Mary Sue Coleman, speaking today (Feb. 17) at the annual conference of the American Council on Education, told the audience of higher education leaders that those briefs will represent more than 100 universities and higher education groups, 63 multinational companies, labor unions, civil rights groups, religious organizations, more than a dozen states, numerous members of Congress, and more than two dozen high-ranking military and civilian defense officials.

"It is an unprecedented flood that speaks volumes about the importance and the far-reaching impact of this upcoming decision," she said. "I am encouraged to see such overwhelming support from every major segment of society. This might well turn out to be the largest number of briefs ever filed in the history of the Court on a single issue."

The deadline for briefs by the University and its amicus supporters is Tuesday (Feb. 18). The two cases—one involving admissions to the Law School (Grutter) and the other the College of Literature, Science and the Arts (Gratz)—are scheduled for oral arguments before the Court on April 1.

The Supreme Court, in its 1978 Bakke decision, ruled that "the State has a substantial interest that legitimately may be served by a properly devised admissions program involving the competitive consideration of race and ethnic origin."

The University's briefs in Gratz and Grutter note that race remains a significant factor in American society, affecting our life experiences in profound ways.

"Despite noble aspirations and considerable progress, our society remains deeply troubled by issues of race. Against that backdrop, there are important educational benefits—for students and for the wider society—associated with a diverse, racially integrated student body," the University's Grutter brief says.

A large body of research proves these benefits, which educators have long experienced, Coleman said. "Students learn better in a diverse class. They are more analytical, and more engaged. The discussion is livelier and more representative of real-world issues."

At the time the Bakke case was decided, observers clearly recognized it as a landmark decision resolving "a bitter national controversy" over the constitutionality of race-conscious admissions policies. The U-M briefs point to the reliance of colleges and universities upon the principles set forth in Bakke.

"Virtually all of this nation's selective colleges and universities have embraced the educational value of a broadly diverse student body and have relied on Bakke in crafting admissions policies designed to obtain that diversity," the U-M's Gratz brief says. "Undermining this reliance would have serious consequences on our national educational culture, leading, among other things, to a near-total absence of minority students in our nation's selective colleges and universities."

For example, William Bowen and Derek Bok, in their book "The Shape of the River," estimate that less than 2 percent of all students entering the most selective colleges and professional schools would be African American if universities were not permitted to consider race in admissions. Overruling Bakke would cut the representation of African American students at the 89 most selective law schools from approximately 7 percent now to less than 1 percent, according to statistics cited in the U-M's Grutter brief.

"The near-complete absence of minority students from the law schools that train most of the federal judiciary's judges, prosecutors and law clerks is a chilling prospect," the brief says.

The University's briefs argue that its admissions programs are "narrowly tailored" to consider race as one of many factors in order to enroll a diverse student body that is also outstanding academically. Both the undergraduate and Law School admissions systems consider the entire student in a "whole-file review," and in both systems the overwhelming criterion for admission is academic achievement. A range of nonacademic factors are considered—including race—in order to assemble a class of qualified students that is richly diverse in a variety of ways.

Race must be considered in order to achieve diversity, the briefs state, because the pool of qualified minority students at present is relatively small, both in absolute terms and in comparison to the large numbers of nonminority applicants. "Even the University's extensive outreach and recruiting efforts, with more, do not lead to the enrollment of meaningful numbers of minority students."

The University's briefs also challenge the notion put forth by the plaintiffs and the Justice Department that race-neutral methods exist to achieve the goal of a diverse student body. The government's brief offered only one alternative—the percentage plans tried in Florida, California and Texas—as a replacement for Michigan's current systems.

Percentage plans, the University's attorneys note, are not "race-neutral" nor have they been proven effective. "With their exclusive focus on class rank, percentage plans are incompatible with the individualized, whole-person file review...that Justice Powell praised." In focusing on enrolling a certain percentage of minority students, "these plans more closely resemble the Davis quota" struck down by the Court in Bakke than the admissions programs in the Law School or LS&A.

Under the guidelines established in Bakke, colleges and universities have adopted admissions systems that are flexible enough to allow them to pursue their individual missions, achieve racial diversity and retain their focus on academic quality, the University argues in its briefs.

"It is not an exaggeration to say that a decision by this Court overruling Bakke would force most of this nation's finest institutions to choose between dramatic resegregation and completely abandoning the demanding standards that have made American higher education the envy of the world."

University of Michigan responses to White House announcement
on affirmative action >>

Admissions Lawsuits >>

Archived Webcast of President Mary Sue Coleman's Address
to the American Council on Education >>

Contact: Julie Peterson
Phone: (734) 936-5190


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