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In Favor of Affirmative Action

The Supreme Court will hear arguments today in the cases of Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, both of which address affirmative action. Both cases involve admission to the University of Michigan, one to its law school and the other to its College of Literature, Arts, and Sciences. These cases threaten to roll back the 1978 decision in Board of Regents v. Bakke, in which the court ruled that race-based admissions are constitutionally valid if they are narrowly tailored and they demonstrate a compelling state interest. The court’s upcoming rulings in Grutter and Gratz have the potential to affect admissions decisions at universities nationwide. President Vest recently filed an amicus brief, with which The Tech agrees, supporting Michigan’s policies.

In the brief, MIT and its co-signers argue that diversity in the scientific and engineering workforce is essential for economic growth. Facilitating access to higher education is crucial in order to keep the science and engineering employment pool strong. It is reassuring to see that leaders in education such as MIT and Stanford, as well as corporate technological leaders like IBM and a host of others, stand behind policies that strengthen diverse accessibility to the invaluable resources found in higher education. The Tech is further pleased to see MIT student involvement: in addition to protesting locally, over 100 students travelled to Washington, D.C. to demonstrate support for the University of Michigan today.

Those opposed to affirmative action chiefly hold that it discriminates against qualified, meritorious candidates. Yet that contention falls apart under any realistic examination of the admissions process and the ability of flat numbers to reflect merit. If numbers truly could purely determine merit, college admissions could be reduced to a math problem, and Dean of Admissions Marilee Jones could sleep more easily. Upon acknowledging that more careful consideration than only examination of GPAs and SATs is necessary in admissions, we need only acknowledge that different races face different experiences in America to see that race and socioeconomic conditions deserve consideration in the admissions process.

College admission is based on many factors, academic and otherwise. Refusing to allow universities to consider race as they admit students in effect tells universities, as Vest puts it, that “you can consider everything, but you can’t consider this.” Tellingly, critics of affirmative action have been utterly silent regarding legacy admissions policies, precise logical equivalents of affirmative action that confer benefit not on those statistically likely to have faced hardship because of race, but on those statistically likely to donate money. Leading academic institutions like MIT could face intense legal battles over admissions policies should Michigan’s practices be ruled unconstitutional. We hope that MIT will continue to defend its own admissions policy.

Vest, among others, seeks to demonstrate that there is a compelling state interest for affirmative action. It is now up to the Supreme Court to set a course for the future of higher education admissions policies across the nation. The consequences of a ruling that denies the role of race in admissions could be frighteningly dramatic.

Jeremy Baskin, a member of the Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid, has recused himself from this editorial.