The Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the University’s flagship faculty body, will vote whether to affirm its commitment to student body diversity after being presented with a report which argued for the importance of racial and ethnic diversity to the College’s mission.
The report, which was discussed at the final FAS meeting of the semester this past week, comes as the College’s admissions policies face legal scrutiny, including the filing of a lawsuit last year accusing the College of discriminating against Asian-American students through its affirmative action policies.
“We emphatically embrace and reaffirm the University’s long-held view that student body diversity—including racial diversity—is essential to our pedagogical objectives and institutional mission,” the report said.
The report was drafted by a small faculty committee convened last January which was chaired by Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana. The report outlines the development of religious, ethnic, and racial diversity at Harvard. It includes a brief history of the University’s participation in several high-profile affirmative action cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, along with various amici curiae briefs filed with the Court vigorously defending race-based affirmative action.
The report will be discussed Wednesday at a meeting of the Faculty Council, the highest elected body in FAS, according to committee member and Human and Evolutionary Biology professor David Pilbeam.
After the Faculty Council review, faculty members are slated to vote on endorsing the report as a “statement of values embraced by the Faculty” at their first meeting of the spring semester.
Harvard has remained active in the legal debate over affirmative action. Most recently, the University defended its race-based admissions policies in a brief filed in the affirmative action case Fisher vs. University of Texas at Austin. The Court will begin hearing oral arguments in the case on Wednesday.
In its 27-page brief, the University argued that a diverse student body represents “a compelling interest that justifies race-conscious admissions in higher education.”
This past July, a judge granted the University’s request for a postponement of its own lawsuit pending the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Fisher case.
The committee’s report touched on similar arguments for student body diversity as the University’s Fisher brief, including that it aids the development of undergraduates in classroom, research, and residential life.
It also cites survey data collected from graduating seniors that “confirm that the benefits resulting from our diverse student body are both real and profound,” including that about two-thirds of graduating students report their ability to relate to those different from themselves increased during their time at the College.
The debate over Harvard’s admissions policies comes as students and administrators participate in a much larger discussion over racial and ethnic diversity at the College.
In November, a College working group released its own report on diversity, and recommended several changes including the creation of University-wide task force to study the topic. While both committees operated independently, Pusey Minister Jonathan L. Walton chaired the College working group and served on the FAS committee.
Khurana wrote in an email that even as the groups worked independently, both reports “are timely and helpful to our ongoing work to create a more inclusive and belonging community” at the College.
—Staff writer Karl M. Aspelund can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @karlaspelund.