University President Mary Sue Coleman is scheduled to give the keynote address at the annual meeting of the American Council on Education on Feb. 17. The speech is expected to focus on the affirmative action cases as well as offer a preview of the briefs the University plans to submit to the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 18, the filing deadline for amicus briefs pertaining to the affirmative action cases. Following the speech, a panel of college presidents will have a chance to respond to its contents. The event is expected to garner a great deal of media attention.

This speech offers a great opportunity for Coleman to strengthen the University’s position on affirmative action and diversity. Furthermore, other universities and colleges can use this occasion to express and expand on their support for the University’s affirmative action policies.

The importance of diversity in the educational process cannot be stressed enough. As the nation approaches a critical juncture in the history of higher education, the educational community must do all it can to ensure that the means of creating diversity are not infringed upon. In her speech, Coleman should aggressively defend the University’s policies. Her speech should encapsulate the ideology behind the admissions policies and it should seek to promote that logic to ACE as well as the general public. This speech should not be squandered on defending the policy by refuting arguments offered by opponents of affirmative action. It is time for the University to take the offensive. Coleman should put forth a cogent defense that stresses the importance of diversity and necessity of affirmative action in higher education.

This meeting also presents a chance for other organizations to step up and take the front lines in this fight alongside the University. The panel of college presidents can, and should, respond to the speech by reaffirming Coleman’s viewpoint. In addition, more universities should join the over 200 organizations already filing upwards of 50 amicus briefs supporting the University. Additional briefs and organizations can do nothing but strengthen the University’s case, and a wide showing of supporters (ranging from Fortune 500 companies to religious groups and government officials) will significantly improve the image of the University to the general public.

Time is running out, and the battle for the future of affirmative action is poised to shift into an even higher gear. The public rift surrounding the University’s admissions policies is growing and deepening. At the ACE conference, Coleman has the ability to sway the general public, while behind the scenes, amicus briefs can be a formidable tool from which they can influence the court. Strong support from the University community at this crucial hour will bolster the cause of affirmative action as the growing debate mounts to a climax.

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