Local Schools' Admissions Policies Validated
Connecticut colleges and universities said last week's U.S. Supreme court rulings on affirmative action validates their own policies on student diversity.
In two decisions released June 23, the high court underscored that racial quotas are unconstitutional but left room for the nation's public universities – and by extension other public and private institutions – to seek ways to take race into account.
The divided court approved a program used at the University of Michigan law school that gives race a role in the admissions decision-making process. It struck down a separate point system used by the university to give minority preference in undergraduate admissions.
The court preserved the rules outlined a generation ago in a landmark ruling that struck down quotas but allowed subtler forms of affirmative action. Last week's rulings mean that race-conscious policies in place in institutions as diverse as military academies and women's studies courses will probably remain in force.
"The court's decision upholds the affirmative action policies of the state of Connecticut and the Connecticut State University system," said William J. Cibes, chancellor of the Connecticut State University system.
He called the ruling upholding the admissions policy at the law school a "victory for those who believe that affirmative action provides the diverse student populations needed to enrich the higher education experience."
No Connecticut college or university uses an undergraduate system of awarding points based on race in determining admissions, said state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. "Our schools consider a great variety of factors – extracurricular activities, grades, test scores, race – to help enhance student diversity," Blumenthal said. "The Supreme court has now reaffirmed Connecticut's practice and policy."
Officials at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut College in New London and Trinity College in Hartford said they do not believe the ruling will affect their policies, which they said do not rely on point systems that were struck down.
"On the contrary, we feel our approach has been affirmed by the justices," said Justin Harmon, director of communications at Wesleyan. "I think we fall much closer to the approach the law school took and which the justices upheld."
Wesleyan, Connecticut College and Trinity were among the colleges and universities that filed legal briefs in the case supporting affirmative action policies.
The ruling means that race-conscious, narrowly tailored admissions policies can continue, said Aaron Bayer, secretary and general counsel at Connecticut College. "I think our policies are well within the parameters of these decisions," Bayer said. Larry Dow, dean of admissions at Trinity, said he was relieved that the ruling appears to recognize the role diversity should play in the admissions process. "I was concerned that a ruling would impede the efforts to attain diversity in higher education Dow said. "We didn't know how far reaching the decision would be."
Yale Law School Professor William Eskridge Jr. said the Michigan decision is the Supreme Court's most important ruling on affirmative action to date. The law school system considered race a plus for minority applicants, but it did not provide a specific point value, Eskridge said.
Most law schools have similar policies, he said, although public and private schools will probably adjust the wording in their policies in light of the ruling.
He said the ruling will probably not have much affect on minority applicants' chances of getting in to law schools. "It certainly will not make it easier, but for most law schools I think it would leave the odds about the same," Eskridge said.
Yale Law School's program is similar to Michigan's, he said. "I think Yale is in good shape," Eskridge added. "We are a school that both believes in diversity and practices diversity, and [is] able to maintain ridiculously high standards for our students."