A federal judge upheld the University of Michigan's affirmative action program on Wednesday, ruling that public universities can use race as a factor in college admissions and setting the stage for a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Federal Judge Patrick J. Duggan said that the University of Michigan's current admissions system--which gives a 20-point advantage to black and Hispanic applicants on a 150-point scale--is constitutional.
But Druggan said that Michigan's old policy--in place until 1998--violated the U.S. Constitution since the university set entirely separate criteria for white and minority applicants.
"A racially and ethnically diverse student body produces significant education benefits such that diversity, in the context of higher education, constitutes a compelling governmental interest," Druggan wrote in his decision.
Harvard President Neil L. Rudenstine said he was pleased with the ruling. He said that affirmative action policies which call for diversity do not compromise the quality of the accepted pool of students.
"I don't think there are any contradictions between achieving excellence and diversity," Rudenstine said. "I specifically think that one must give consideration to race and gender....Students can learn a lot from those around them--and that's not just 'intellectual book learning.'"
University spokesperson Joe Wrinn echoed Rudenstine's praise of Duggan's decision.
"We're obviously very happy that the court ruled in favor of diversity," Wrinn said. "We believe you learn as much from the people around you as from texts."
University of Michigan President Lee C. Bollinger said in a news release that the lawsuit's outcome is pivotal because it permits the university to continue pursuing diversity actively.
"I am deeply gratified by the court's decision to recognize and affirm the critical nature of diversity in higher education," Bollinger said.
But Rudenstine said the ruling does not have much of an impact on Harvard because it simply reinforces the status quo.
"It just sustains the current Supreme Court view in the Bakke case that considering race in admissions is fine as long as its goal is a carefully tailored, diverse group of students," Rudenstine said.
In that 1978 case--Regents of the University of California v. Bakke--the U.S. Supreme Court allowed universities to consider race in admissions, but deemed racial quotas to be unconstitutional.
Even though several university officials said they unequivocally support Duggan's opinion, the legal battle is not likely to end soon.
The backdrop to the case suggests that it may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a landmark case in 1996, an appellate court ruled against affirmative action at the University of Texas Law School, and many people find affirmative action unacceptable.
Some of Michigan's students, for example, said Duggan's decision hypocritically promotes discrimination and resentment.
"Distinguishing based on race is going backwards," said Matthew S. Schwartz, a University of Michigan student who was also editor-at-large of Michigan Review, a conservative publication. "I think affirmative action breeds animosity."
"Affirmative action is supposed to counter racism, but it uses racism," said Adam J. Wieczorek, a University of Michigan senior.
Marcie B. Bianco '02, president of Harvard College Democrats, said she believes that continuing discrimination in the world requires affirmative action as a remedy.
"The problem with [arguments against affirmative action] is there's still explicit discrimination against minorities," Bianco said. "Race discrimination is still prevalent."