As the University of Texas at Austin returns to the Supreme Court on Wednesday to argue on behalf of diversity in higher education, recent events at the University of Missouri, Yale, Princeton and other campuses remind us how significant the stakes are for our universities and the nation.
In this suddenly charged environment, two things are clear. First, race continues to matter in American life. It affects individuals and communities. Second, educating students in an environment as diverse as the United States is one of the most effective ways to ensure that all students succeed in, and contribute to, the real world when they leave campus.
The University of Texas is one of America’s leading public research universities. We seek to prepare tomorrow’s leaders and address the policy, scientific and health-care challenges facing the world.
And the world is increasingly interconnected and global. It requires leaders who have worked with classmates and colleagues from different backgrounds and experiences, and who have benefited from the opportunity and the freedom to learn from different perspectives, viewpoints and ideas that flourish when such diversity exists on campus.
This is the core argument we are making in Fisher v. University of Texas: that our university—and the nation as a whole—benefits when we educate future leaders in an environment rich in the very diversity that has made this nation great.
In Texas we have worked with the state legislature to achieve diversity through a hybrid admissions approach. A majority of the incoming class consists of well-deserving students from across the state who are automatically selected solely by graduating in the top 7% of their high-school class.
But no top-ranked university selects its students or measures their capacity to excel based on a single factor, as no company hires its employees based on one factor. That would exclude some of the most unique, talented and exceptional students—of all races.
To complement Texas’ automatic admissions law, we also admit a segment of the class through a holistic process that considers academic performance, as well as extracurricular accomplishments, socioeconomic background, hardships overcome, special talents and, in a limited manner consistent with Supreme Court precedents, race and ethnicity.
The Ivy League and many public universities have employed the same type of holistic admissions process for decades—and have drawn support from important outside groups.
Dozens of CEOs from Fortune 100 companies, retired generals and military leaders, and numerous others have filed briefs on behalf of our case. They say that they require a pool of talent that understands the perspectives of a globalized society and can help the U.S. maintain its leadership. And they agree that the type of admissions process we use in Texas is critical to realizing this objective.
Our current admissions policy is the descendant of an ugly admissions policy that looked very different—a policy that excluded African-Americans based solely on their race, which was rightly ruled unconstitutional by the court in 1950.
And although attitudes have changed dramatically during the six decades since then, race and ethnicity continue to matter. On college campuses this fall, many students say they are concerned that higher education and society don’t understand and value diversity—while others believe we should have moved on from such conversations by now.
Many universities are taking steps to address these tensions, such as removing hateful iconography and tackling hard questions surrounding race on campus. But in the long term, one of the best ways to address the problem is ensuring a diverse student body with a variety of backgrounds and perspectives—and, yes, different racial backgrounds—that can discuss and peacefully debate these issues, and learn from one another.
Experience shows what will happen if the Supreme Court rules against us. Student diversity will plummet, especially among African-Americans. That happened at Texas after we were barred by a lower court in another case from considering race in admissions from 1998 to 2004. And it is has happened in California and Michigan, after those states barred the consideration of race in admissions.
The finest universities across the nation will run the risk of having fewer students from underrepresented groups. This will perpetuate an environment in which no student derives the benefits of diversity. Ultimately, this will shortchange not only our students, but America’s future.
Published in The Wall Street Journal, December 2015