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MIT To File Amicus Brief in UMich Case

By Nathan Collins

NEWS EDITOR

A racially and ethnically diverse student population “will be essential to our nation’s future economic strength,” according to an MIT brief to be filed with the Supreme Court today.

MIT is filing the amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in support of the University of Michigan’s race-based admissions policy. Additionally, 300 other universities and businesses will join to file a total of about 50 briefs, according to the statement.

In a statement, Vest argued that diversity is important for several reasons, and that universities must retain the right to use race as a selection criteria to achieve diversity. This is true for public and private institutions, he said, and a diverse work force is essential to a strong economy.

Brief discusses affirmative action

The brief seems primarily aimed at one of two questions the Court is likely to wrestle with in Gruter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, the University of Michigan cases --whether a diverse student population is a “compelling state interest.” With the Adarand Constructors v. Pena decision in 1995, which led to increased scrutiny of affirmative action programs, the Court insisted that affirmative actions programs be narrowly tailored and serve a compelling state interest.

Vest’s statement and a fact sheet about the brief provided by the MIT News Office stress a diverse student population and work force as central to a strong economy. One reason for this is that it would help increase the size of the science and engineering community. “We must increase the number of science and engineering students and researchers by encouraging interest in these fields among all members of our population,” Vest said in his statement.

Vest and Stanford University President John L. Hennessy, a co-signer of the brief, said in their statements that diverse student bodies are important for the learning environment as well.

Court decision might affect MIT

The statement also appears to lay out a case that MIT has a narrowly tailored admissions program. Vest’s statement notes that all applicants must reach a “high bar of academic quality,” and only then will admissions officers consider race. Using race as a factor allows a student’s accomplishments to be “viewed through the lens of the individual’s culture and community,” Vest said in his statement.

If the Supreme Court decides against the University of Michigan, MIT’s admissions system may be targeted as well. While MIT does not use a point system that adds points for members of racial and ethnic minorities to make admissions decisions, race is still used subjectively. If the Michigan cases are decided such that race cannot be considered at all, MIT’s admissions system would likely be considered illegal.

The brief is cosigned by Stanford University, DuPont, IBM, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering.

Princeton University, also filing an amicus brief on Tuesday, echoed similar worries. Princeton asked the Court “to interpret the Constitution and federal statutes to leave ... institutions with latitude to take race and ethnicity into account as positive factors in their individualized admissions processes,” a Princeton statement said.