EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: Diversity is vital to higher education experience

2012-09-09T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: Diversity is vital to higher education experienceBy James B. Dworkin nwitimes.com
September 09, 2012 12:00 am  • 

In October, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case that has the potential to profoundly impact the admissions policies of colleges and universities across the nation and alter the plans of thousands of prospective college students.

The court will consider the case of Abigail Fisher and Rachel Michalewicz who are challenging the constitutionality of the admission process at the University of Texas at Austin, alleging they were denied entrance in 2008 because they are white.

Their suit brings into question the validity of admissions practices at the University of Texas at Austin and countless colleges and universities that have followed well established case law to ensure enrollment of a diverse mix of students.

The highly regarded University of Texas at Austin receives four times more applications than openings in its freshman class. Its admissions procedures are designed to enroll a “meritorious and diverse” student body.

Educators and administrators recognize that a diverse student body is a crucial component to the educational mission of our nation’s colleges and universities. 

The U.S. Supreme Court has received many amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs on both sides of this case, including one by a group of national organizations, higher education leaders and public sector leaders deeply invested in racial diversity and the role it plays in building public leadership and civic engagement.

A key participant in this filing is Campus Compact, a nationwide coalition of almost 1,200 colleges and universities dedicated to promoting community service, diversity and service learning. I am chair of the Campus Compact board.

When people of all ages, races, religions, backgrounds, interests and intents come together in a classroom, we see an educational experience that extends far beyond class lectures and homework assignments.

Diversity thus remains a compelling interest in higher education. As stated in the brief, “Cultivating diverse civic leaders and professionals is core to higher education institutions’ mission.”

As educators, it is our responsibility to equip our students to work and live in an interconnected global society. We must prepare our students to explore new ideas and thought processes and to confront the unfamiliar. We must challenge them to solve problems, to think creatively and to form thoughtful fact-based conclusions. We must nurture their critical thinking skills and ability to make sound, moral decisions. They must have the ability to consider differing viewpoints, to empathize with those who may think differently and to reach across differences to build consensus.

An important message from this amicus brief: “Civic capacity depends on racially diverse public leadership capable of engaging in effective public problem solving and bridging racial division.”

We feel it essential that our nation’s colleges and universities be allowed to continue to use admission policies to enhance the representation of underrepresented minority groups within higher education.

The students filing suit did successfully continue their studies. Michalewicz graduated from St. Edward’s University in Austin in three years and is now a law student at Southern Methodist University. Fisher graduated from Louisiana State University.

James B. Dworkin is chancellor at Purdue University North Central. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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