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MIT and peer institutions file Supreme Court amicus brief supporting consideration of race in admissions

The Institute and 13 other leading universities reaffirm the value of diversity as justices consider a challenge to undergraduate admissions policies at the University of Texas.

MIT and 13 other leading universities filed an amicus brief Monday with the U.S. Supreme Court in Fisher v. University of Texas. The court will hear arguments in the case on Oct. 10.

The brief filed by MIT and its peers supports the use of race as a criterion in undergraduate admissions. The case was brought by Abigail Fisher, a white applicant who sued the University of Texas in 2008 after being denied admission. She claims the consideration of race by the University of Texas is unconstitutional and in violation of federal civil rights statutes.

The University of Texas, in turn, cites a 2003 Supreme Court decision, Grutter v. Bollinger, in which justices ruled 5-4 that diversity in higher education is a compelling government interest and that the University of Michigan Law School’s consideration of an applicants’ race as one factor in its admissions process was constitutional.

Institute officials explained that MIT and the other schools seek to impress upon the Supreme Court not just the value, but the necessity of diversity to educational excellence. They added that diversity enriches the educational experience for all students, preparing them to be active, capable citizens of a changing world.

“MIT is committed to ensuring that our student body reflects a robust diversity, enriching our rigorous learning environment and helping prepare future leaders for a complex and heterogeneous nation and world,” MIT President L. Rafael Reif told MIT News.

“We get some of the best students in the world, some of whom are underrepresented minority students, and we’re proud of this fact,” added Daniel Hastings, MIT’s dean of undergraduate education and the Cecil and Ida Green Education Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems. “As we prepare leaders for the future, research clearly shows the value of educating our students in diverse teams to arrive at the best solutions.”

MIT’s brief was filed jointly with Brown University, the University of Chicago, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Duke University, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Stanford University, Vanderbilt University and Yale University.

The 14 universities say in their brief that they “speak with one voice to the profound importance of a diverse student body — including racial diversity — for their educational missions. [They] also seek to provide their students with the most rigorous, stimulating, and enriching educational environment, in which ideas are tested and debated from every perspective. … [All] recognized long ago that admissions by purely numerical factors such as grade-point averages and standardized test scores would not effectively accomplish their broader educational missions.”

“Our students learn an enormous amount from each other, and so we recruit and enroll students who will bring something special to the student body,” said Stuart Schmill, MIT’s dean of admissions. “Having a highly talented and richly diverse student body is essential to the education that all students get.”

The 14 universities write in their brief that “a diverse student body adds significantly to the rigor and depth of students’ educational experience. Diversity encourages students to question their own assumptions, to test received truths, and to appreciate the spectacular complexity of the modern world. This larger understanding prepares … graduates to be active and engaged citizens wrestling with the pressing challenges of the day, to pursue innovation in every field of discovery, and to expand humanity’s learning and accomplishment.”

The amicus brief adds that a ruling that universities achieve diversity only through the use of mechanistic policies would not only be unworkable for the institutions, but would be fundamentally incompatible with their educational missions.

“It is vital for our democracy to ensure that students of all backgrounds have access to education,” said Emma Teng, co-chair of the MIT Committee on Race and Diversity
 and the T.T. and Wei Fong Chao Professor of Asian Civilizations. “The educational experience for all students is incomparably enriched by diversity within the classroom. Over the years, many students (majority and minority) have personally told me how much they deeply appreciate the opportunity to learn from students whose backgrounds and life experiences differ substantially from their own. For many of our students, residential college life exposes them to a diversity they have never previously experienced. The value cannot be overestimated.”

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