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So wrote President Lawrence H. Summers and Tyler Professor of Constitutional Law Lawrence H. Tribe in an opinion piece in The New York Times on Saturday. It was heartening to see Harvard’s president and one of the University’s top constitutional scholars take a prominent role in speaking out on the Michigan affirmative action case. Since his installation almost two years ago, Summers has not been bashful about using his bully pulpit to have his voice heard. That he is being vocal on such an important issue as the value of diversity is especially welcome.
Yesterday, during hearings, Justice Ruth B. Ginsburg confirmed what many commentators have suggested. “I gather this case is not simply about public universities. This case is as much about Harvard as it is about Michigan,” she said. Since the Court’s decision will have major repercussions for both public and private universities, it is important that leading academics such as Summers and Tribe publicly articulate the case for affirmative action.
After Michigan’s policies came under attack from conservative interests, including the Bush Administration, Harvard felt it was necessary to file an amicus curiae brief—signed by 66 universities—with the court. The recent Times op-ed is the University’s latest effort to protect the need for diversity in higher education.
Indeed, Summers and Tribe were right to come out strongly in favor of the University of Michigan’s admissions practices. While Michigan’s undergraduate admission’s “point system” is not ideal, it is a satisfactory system for a school with too many applicants to effectively use a “plus” system like Harvard, and it achieves an important objective for all universities: a diverse student body.
As the students, faculty and administrators of many universities realize, promoting interaction between students of divergent backgrounds and viewpoints is an essential part of higher education. Diversity fuels debate and challenges students to think more broadly about the world in which they live. Hopefully, the Court will heed the advice of Summers and Tribe and uphold the constitutionality of Michigan’s admissions policies.
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