With less than two months before the University’s lawsuits on race in admissions are heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, tension at other colleges around the country are rising regarding the college’s own use of race-conscious programs and admissions policies that could come under attack.
Afraid of a possible lawsuit, Princeton University announced last week the suspension of a summer academic program exclusively for underrepresented minorities.
Since 1985, The Woodrow Wilson School Junior Summer Institute has offered a seven-week summer program for minority undergraduates from all over the country wishing to pursue a career in public policy and international work. The institute encourages participants to pursue graduate-level work while in the program.
Princeton spokesman Robert Durkee said the school was concerned the program could become a lawsuit target for only allowing minority applicants.
“(It) is a program that would not be able to pass legal muster,” Durkee said. “There was some risk that if we perceive that program was sustainable under current law, there would be questions about whether we understood how current law was being applied.”
But Lester Monts, University of Michigan senior vice provost for academic affairs, said Princeton’s decision “sounds irrational.” He said the sort of outreach done by the institute is legal.
“We have many of these programs on the University campus and they are working very well to bring minority students and students of color into the fold for graduate study and professional study,” Monts said.
Monts added that the University plans to continue similar initiatives.
Durkee said Princeton administrators made the decision after a watchdog group told the school the group was aware of its alleged exclusivity. After consultation with attorneys, Wilson School administrators told students and faculty last week that after the summer, the postponement will take effect.
“We know of at least one other university that had a similar program that decided to try to defend it, and is now in a situation where it realizes it is not possible in this legal climate to defend a race-exclusive program,” Durkee said. “It was certainly clear to us that there was awareness of (Princeton’s) program, and it was certainly likely it would be challenged.”
Durkee emphasized that the decision does not undermine Princeton’s commitment to diversity.
He noted numerous other programs currently in place on campus, including the Princeton University Preparatory Program – an outreach initiative which works to make inner city high school students more qualified candidates for competitive schools – that are making an effort to promote a positive racial climate at Princeton.
“We spend a lot of time through our admissions office and through other programs we sponsor on campus trying to identify candidates from diverse backgrounds,” Durkee said.