A monthly letter from President Martin C. Jischke
When the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decisions on the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies, higher education administrators throughout the country immediately compared their own student admission practices to the court's opinion to determine whether they were in compliance.
Although the June 23 rulings will have no effect on the way Purdue admits students, I believe the court's decision was a good one for America and for higher education. The justices acknowledged that diversity is a compelling interest of universities, and they recognized that higher education plays an important role in creating opportunities for minorities who are underrepresented in many areas of American society. The court ruled on two student policies that had been in effect at Michigan.
In its undergraduate admissions, the university evaluated prospective students under a point system that automatically gave minority applicants a 20-point advantage. The majority of justices found this practice to be unconstitutional because the 20 points were awarded indiscriminately and had the effect of making race the decisive factor for "virtually every underrepresented minority applicant."
The court upheld Michigan's law school admissions policy, which takes applicants' minority status into account, along with other factors, but does not award a specific advantage to any race. The decision noted that candidates are evaluated individually and that taking race into account in order to achieve diversity in the student body is lawful. The opinion acknowledged that the benefits of diversity are "substantial" not only for universities, but because it leads to the education of "leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry."
Purdue considers diversity in the student body as a major university goal, but it treats all students the same in the admissions process. Minority applicants to all the university's schools are evaluated under the same criteria as all other students. However, we do have numerous initiatives that are designed to encourage minority students to attend Purdue and to increase their chances of success. These include outreach to public schools, scholarships, fellowships, counseling programs, and numerous other efforts.
The June Supreme Court decision was welcomed by most educators, because we believe it gives universities the latitude they need to increase diversity on our campuses. This is important for a number of reasons.
Since American society is highly diverse, it makes sense that universities, which prepare most of our future leaders, reflect that diversity. All of our students benefit tremendously from interaction with people from a variety of cultures, who bring many different viewpoints to discussion. But there are even more compelling reasons for universities to reach out to minorities.
America for all its greatness as a land of opportunity has not treated all people equally. Our government and most of our major institutions have recognized that complex historic and social forces have denied some of our people many of the benefits that most Americans take for granted. The impacts over the centuries have been significant and we will live with their consequences for many more years.
As someone who has spent his entire working life on university campuses, I understand that education is the best tool for giving people the ability to take control of their lives and become productive citizens. I believe most educators understand this enormous power for positive change and that is why they believe in affirmative action as one of the ways to reach out to all sectors of society.
An America in which everyone takes full advantage of the benefits of education will be an even greater nation than it is today.