WASHINGTON – Columbia University President Lee Bollinger has not spent much time at work during the past two weeks, dividing his time between the University of Michigan – where he was president from 1997 to 2001 – and Washington.
After the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday concerning the University’s use of race in admissions, Bollinger prepared to conclude his tour by giving his opinion about the admissions and the court proceedings.
Speaking before Columbia graduates and several members of the press, Bollinger said he feels confident the court will favor the University’s admissions policies.
“I’m very optimistic,” he said. “I believe at the end of the day that whatever one believes about particular programs … the fundamental idea of considering race in a modest way – just as we consider geographic and economic factors – that will allow (diversity) to continue.”
Citing the importance of having a racially and ethnically diverse student body in all institutes of higher education, Bollinger said the University’s policies are integral to providing students with “a liberal education.”
“White students interacting with African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans sometimes come with stereotypes about these minorities,” he said. “That kind of breaking down of expectations is the essence of what a liberal education is all about.”
In addition to dispelling prejudices, the University admissions policies enrich the educational experience, Bollinger said.
“We want to teach students the knowledge that we have accumulated over the centuries … not only to have that knowledge brought to them, but to help them create for themselves the diversity of mind and learning about the world,” he said. “As we know, the world is a place of very complex spirits.”
But Bollinger added that while the University’s admissions policies give points to underrepresented minorities, they only benefit students with exceptional academic and personal credentials.
“We have tried to select at each institution the most capable students, the most talented, but also a wide range of students,” he said.
“Within a pool of candidates whose scorers are extremely capable, the University tries to pick a diverse group who will benefit all students.”
Bollinger said the University must cooperate with all students and faculty speaking for and against race-conscious admissions.
“You have to be extremely careful that you don’t chill or silence the debate,” he said.
– Daily Staff Reporter Jeremy Berkowitz contributed to this report.