October 29, 2012

Editorial: Defending Diversity

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This term, the United States Supreme Court may decide whether or not race is an appropriate factor to consider when admitting students to a university. The case, Fisher v. University of Texas, was brought by a young woman who was denied acceptance to the university and believes it was because she is white.

Cornell, along with several other colleges, submitted an amicus brief in the case arguing that the court should reject Fisher’s challenge and should allow race to continue to be considered as one part of a holistic admissions decision process. The Sun commends the University for submitting the brief and hopes the Court rules in favor of Texas.

Race is an important part of many Americans’ identities and is a factor in shaping one’s world view. An inability to grasp this reflects a greater inability to understand the world beyond our campus.As the brief said, Cornell has recognized the “profound importance of a diverse student body — including racial diversity — for their educational missions.”

Cornell prepares students for life after college not only by requiring individualized tests and papers, but also through collaborative projects and engaging class discussions. The dynamic this type of environment creates allows students to discuss, listen and learn from each other.To that point, Cornell argued that, “one aspect of the mission of many universities is training future citizens and leaders for a heterogeneous society, and that diversity is vital to that objective.”

Opponents of affirmative action, and we recognize there are many, either fail to acknowledge or disagree that this aspect of higher education is a crucial part of a university’s mission.

A Cornell without affirmative action would be a vastly different place. For example, when a 1996 decision briefly outlawed race-based affirmative action at the University of Texas at Austin, the number of African-American students there fell by 40 percent. We could expect to see a similar result at Cornell.

Without affirmative action, the composition of Cornell would no longer resemble the composition of the world beyond our walls. For example, the state of California prohibits using race as a factor in admissions decisions, and the composition of the University of California, Berkeley is largely out of synch with that of the state from which nearly 90 percent of its students come. Forty percent of Californians are white, 6 percent are African-American, 14 percent are Asian and 39 percent are Hispanic. At Berkeley, four percent of students are African-American, 43 percent are Asian, 13 percent are Hispanic, and 33 percent are white. While Berkeley’s student body might reflect who had the best grades or SAT scores in high school, it does not reflect the world it’s preparing its students to live in.

Cornell claims in the amicus brief that it seeks to provide students with “the most rigorous, stimulating, and enriching educational environment, in which ideas are tested and debated from every perspective,” and continuing to “allow educational institutions to structure admissions programs that take account of race and ethnicity as single factors within a highly individualized, holistic review process” is integral to their mission.

We wholeheartedly agree.