Yale officials argued in a Supreme Court brief Monday that considering race in university admissions represents a compelling educational interest, yet the University did not endorse any specific affirmative action policy.
Harvard, Brown, Dartmouth, Duke, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago collaborated with Yale on the brief that was filed in the University of Michigan affirmative action cases currently before the Supreme Court. While the case will not directly affect Yale’s admissions policies, University officials said Yale and other private universities have a vested interest in the outcome because of their own admissions goals.
“If [the Supreme Court] said under no circumstances could a college or university take an applicant’s race into account in making an admissions system, that would change what we do because we look at the whole person and race can be considered in a positive way,” Yale General Counsel Dorothy Robinson said.
The brief did not take a position on the specifics of the University of Michigan’s admissions policies, Yale officials said. Instead, it focused on the importance of admitting a diverse student body, Yale President Richard Levin said.
The Supreme Court will hear two cases filed against the University of Michigan –Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger — together, marking the first time since 1978 that the Supreme Court has considered the role of race in university admissions. The former applicants argued that they were denied admission to the University of Michigan and University of Michigan Law School in part because they are white.
Levin said the brief focused on showing the relevance of the most recent Supreme Court decision on affirmative action: the 1978 case, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. In that case, the Supreme Court declared racial quotas unconstitutional, but encouraged universities to use other methods to admit diverse student bodies.
University Secretary Linda Lorimer said the Supreme Court’s decision in the Michigan case has implications beyond higher education.
“I think it’s important for Yale to reinforce the importance of the Bakke decision and to underscore to the Supreme Court justices the interest in ensuring its provisions are retainedÊ– both for universities, but more importantly, for our nation,” she said.
The University of Michigan’s admissions policy assigns applicants points for factors such as race and standardized test scores. Levin said Yale’s brief supports the general idea of considering race in admissions, but not the specific policy.
“It’s very important for the Court to affirm [those] underlying principles even if the court should choose to reject Michigan’s arguments on the facts,” Levin said. “[Race] need not be taken into account mechanistically or formulaically.”
Race does play a factor in Yale’s admissions system, but Yale Dean of Admissions Richard Shaw said the comparatively small size of Yale’s applicant pool allows the University to use a more “holistic” approach to admissions. Last year, the University of Michigan received more than 25,000 applications to fill a class of about 5,000. By comparison, Yale received 15,466 applications last year for a freshmen class of 1,304 students.
“For large public universities, you see a more formulaic approach — the numbers they deal with are huge,” Shaw said. “I think [the University of Michigan’s] foundation is solid. They’re looking at different characteristics that they value and diversity is one of them.”
Shaw said Yale, like the University of Michigan, has many ways of attracting and admitting talented and diverse candidates.
“[Our] intent is the same — to provide — students from all walks of life an opportunity to have access to higher education and to Yale,” Shaw said.
Public universities in Texas, Florida and California currently use admissions policies that rely on accepting a certain percentage of students from each high school’s graduating class. Yale’s brief contends that such “race neutral” alternatives to affirmative action are ineffective.
“The Texas plan may work for public universities,” Levin said. “It’s an interesting variation for a public school with a large enrollment body — but it wouldn’t work for us — as the brief argues. Harvard alone has more valedictorians applying than it has spaces in the class.”
Yale’s brief came a month after President George W. Bush announced that his staff would file a brief against the University of Michigan’s policies.
Bush announced his support for diversity, but said he believes “the method used by the University of Michigan to achieve this important goal is fundamentally flawed.” Bush said the University of Michigan’s point system gives unfair weight to an applicant’s race.
Various corporations, including Microsoft, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble, have announced plans to file briefs supporting the University of Michigan. University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman said Monday that at least 300 organizations plan to collaborate on more than 60 briefs supporting the university.