In anticipation of today’s deadline for the University and its supporters to file briefs in the upcoming two U.S. Supreme Court lawsuits, University President Mary Sue Coleman addressed the public in two meetings yesterday.
Coleman had planned to speak at the annual conference of the American Council on Education and afterwards hold a press conference with various organizations and people filing briefs. But due to a blizzard in the Washington area, Coleman delivered her speech via satellite from a television studio in Crisler Arena.
The University expects to make oral arguments in front of the court April 1, regarding the University’s use of race in its admissions policies.
The University expects more than 60 amicus briefs written by about 300 organizations to be filed by tonight. But Wayne State University Prof. Robert Sedler said the amicus briefs will have little influence on the court unless they present a different viewpoint.
“They’re going to get read by the law clerks. If they find integral points in the briefs … they will include that in the bench memorandum that is presented to the Supreme Court,” Sedler said.
Coleman staunchly defended the University’s policies and reiterated the importance of diversity in higher education. She also noted the importance of diversity in the workforce and the responsibilities universities take in preparing students for interacting in different environments and cultures once they graduate.
“This case is not about college admissions policies alone,” Coleman said. “It touches every major sector of our country, and the outcome will influence the direction of America’s public policy.”
Later, Coleman, University General Counsel Marvin Krislov, Law School Dean Jeffrey Lehman and eight representatives from organizations filing briefs participated in a teleconference with members of the media. Among them were Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Charles Vest, former Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command Adm. Dennis Blair and Law student Marisa Bono.
Coleman and the eight representatives each spoke for a few minutes to outline their reasons for filing briefs. In addition to expressing a belief that diversity is a compelling national interest, they explained how diversity benefits their own line of work.
Vest – whose school, MIT, opened up two previously minority-exclusive summer programs to all students last week – said diversity enriches universities while the lawsuits threaten the quality of education across the country.
“Our admissions procedures might be different in detail but the underlying goals are similar in philosophy,” Vest said.
Twenty-eight former top-ranking and civilian leaders with the armed forces will file a brief today, noting the three military academies in this country use race-conscious admissions policies not unlike the University’s. The minority percentage of enlisted soldiers is 40 percent, but the percentage of officers, who largely come from university ROTC programs, is about 19.9 percent.
“We do not have the proportion of minority (officers) that is commensurate to those in the enlisted,” Blair said. “We are looking to make sure that we can have future Colin Powells.”
The University has also received support from other prominent individuals including U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), a 1965 graduate of the Law School. But Sedler said this case is too sensitive to be weighed by such factors.
“That’s not going to influence the court especially on an issue like this where there are sharp divisions,” Sedler said.