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Keep Affirmative Action Strong

Harvard’s <I>amicus curiae</I> brief is a welcome addition to the debate on the important policy

By The CRIMSON Staff

In an amicus curiae brief filed before the Supreme Court this week, Harvard has once again taken up the cause of affirmative action and racial diversity. Nearly 25 years ago, Harvard played an important role in defining and defending affirmative action in the much-heralded University of California Board of Regents v. Bakke case. In the amicus curiae brief that it filed for that case, Harvard explained how its affirmative action plan worked, and how it could be justified to a country heavily invested in questions of equality and racial justice. In Bakke, Harvard’s “plus factor” doctrine—which pursues the goal of a racially diverse student body by weighing race as one factor among many in choosing qualified candidates—was endorsed by the Supreme Court as an example of an acceptable, and even laudable, form of affirmative action. Quota systems, on the other hand, were rightly disallowed in the Bakke decision.

In the University of Michigan case currently before the Supreme Court, the question of the acceptability of affirmative action is again at stake. Once again, Harvard has been eloquent in its defense and explanation of its practice, and the brief it filed has been co-signed by numerous other colleges and universities—showing wide agreement by schools on this issue.

While a more detailed and focused look at the specifics of the University of Michigan’s undergraduate and graduate admissions policies would have been ideal, it was more important for Harvard to defend affirmative action in general. The focus of the public debate on affirmative action changed when President George W. Bush filed his own amicus brief questioning the very foundations of such a policy. Afterwards, it became necessary for Harvard to respond to the fundamental attacks on such a valuable policy for schools that value diversity.

Despite the shift in public debate, the Supreme Court must establish a clear and fair precedent in this case, and define the ways in which affirmative action may operate and the ends that it must pursue. Racial justice must survive, and the court must affirm the value of diversity in our classrooms and in our society at large by upholding the principles set forth in Bakke.

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