An impending Supreme Court hearing could result in a ruling impacting the way colleges and universities across the country look at applicants. University of Michigan administrators yesterday said they were looking forward to a decision that will clarify the role of race in college admissions.
“This is an issue of national importance,” interim LSA Dean Terrence McDonald said. “I’m delighted that the Supreme Court is going to decide this issue.”
Regent-elect Andrew Richner (R-Grosse Pointe Park) had a different reason for supporting the Supreme Court’s decision. He said he was glad the Supreme Court will hear the cases because he felt Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the Supreme Court precedent used in cases regarding race-conscious admissions, needed elaboration.
“I think the issue is ripe for consideration,” Richner said. “The Bakke decision is a murky decision that begs for some sort of clarification on what the Court meant.”
He added that disagreement among lower court rulings, something he hopes will change after the Supreme Court rules. “You’ve got the 5th Circuit in the Hopwood v. University of Texas ruling striking down the University of Texas and then you have the 6th (Circuit) Court of Appeals upholding the University of Michigan’s admissions process. The courts are all over the map on this.” he said.
Law School Dean Jeffrey Lehman disagreed with Richner. “I think Bakke is pretty clear,” he said. “One of the lessons from Bakke is that lawful forms of affirmative action are tailored to the contexts where they are being used.”
Lehman also said he thought the Law School admissions policies would be upheld by the Supreme Court.
“I am confident that the Court will recognize both the lawfulness and the importance of our admissions policies,” he said.
Regent Olivia Maynard (D-Goodrich) expressed support for current admissions policies and said she is glad the University is leading the fight for race-conscious admissions policies.
“I think the program we’ve been following is the correct one,” she said.
She also noted the historical importance of the decision. “This (will) be the first time in 25 years that the United States Supreme Court has visited this issue.”
Not everyone supports the University’s use of race as a factor in its admissions policies. While philosophy Prof. Carl Cohen said their motives are good, he openly called the policies discriminatory.
“I was pleased because I think it’s important that these principles be clarified,” he said. “It is a racially discriminatory system that we employ. Racial discrimination has always been a morally unacceptable device.”
McDonald talked about the importance of the University’s admissions process, saying the college level is the only level of public education that doesn’t have to draw its student body from a specific geographical area. He said this allowed the University to actively build a diverse student body.
McDonald also said he felt a Supreme Court ruling would lend legitimacy to admissions procedures used by the University.
“Validating our admissions policy will be recognizing the reality that higher education in America is the most important level of education for building a diverse society,” McDonald said.
“I think that the Supreme Court will provide a validation of the Bakke decision,” he added. A decision in favor of the University would allow it to continue its admissions procedures. But McDonald declined to speculate on what decision the Court would render after hearing the case.
Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Lester Monts was more willing to predict the outcome of the cases, which will probably come down in early summer.
“We’re pretty confident that the Supreme Court will rule in our favor,” Monts said.
“I think that we have a superb set of lawyers representing the University. I think our evidence is strong, and I think that (we) will be able to mount a convincing case.”
But Cohen said five of the nine Court justices clearly support the plaintiffs’ case, and several other justices may also rule against the University.
“The likelihood of the University finding five votes on the board to support its racially discriminatory program is very low,” he said.
In the end, the only thing all administrators can say is that the University must wait for the decision from the Court.
“Whether it’s good or bad for the University, I think we have to wait for the decision,” Richner said.
– Daily Staff Reporters Jeremy Berkowitz and Megan Hayes contributed to this article.