Bates, peer colleges file in support of University of Michigan admissions policy

Bates is adding its support to the defense of the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policy in admissions.

Bates and 27 other highly selective private colleges and universities have filed a 30-page legal brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to allow schools to consider an applicant’s race or ethnic background in the application process. Depending on the nature of the ruling, it could affect Bates because, while the college is private, it receives federal funds.

The high court set a deadline of midnight yesterday (Feb.19) for friend-of-the-court filings on the case, and hundreds of groups and individuals filed briefs before the deadline. The court is scheduled to hear oral arguments April 1 in two lawsuits filed in 1997 by three university applicants opposing the University of Michigan’s undergraduate and law school admissions policies. Last month, the Bush administration criticized the university’s policies as quotas, and the U.S. Solicitor General filed a brief opposing the policies. The Supreme Court’s decisions in the two cases are expected before July.

In its filing, Bates and its sister institutions say that alternatives suggested by the Bush administration – admitting a percentage of each high school class, or focusing on class or economic circumstance without looking at racial background – could not work at small, highly selective schools because they would require a “forced abandonment of selectivity if diversity were to be maintained,” damaging the broader educational mission of these schools and their benefit to the larger society.

The liberal arts colleges say that student diversity is essential to a “rich, deep training in diverse subject matters, in residential settings where education is intended to take place not only in the classroom but throughout four years on campus with classmates from different backgrounds and with different experiences, who arrive with different viewpoints.”

The schools argue that eliminating race as one consideration among many could have a “resegregating effect” on their campuses.

“Only when those schools began to aim for racial diversity among the other kinds of diversity long sought for, did those schools begin to enroll more than token numbers of African American students,” the brief states. “Moreover, research and experience suggests that for small, highly selective, largely private colleges … carving out race from all the other kinds of diversity that colleges consciously aim for will have a predictable, substantial resegregating effect, probably moving black students from roughly 5-7 percent of the student body to 2 percent or so.”

The brief states that for these schools, admissions decisions are nuanced, multi-factorial, and not quantitative. No numerical points or weights are assigned for any such factors, including racial or ethnic background; numerical quotas are not set or enforced. Race and ethnic background are considered a “plus” in a particular applicant’s file without insulating that individual from comparison with all other candidates for the available seats.

The schools argue that educating students from all segments of society has long been recognized as valuable to the educational mission, and “cannot be dismissed as late-twentieth century social engineering.” It notes that Bates was founded by abolitionists in 1855 who resolved immediately to admit students without regard to race, religion, national origin, or sex. It notes that an early beneficiary of Bates’ efforts, Rev. Benjamin E. Mays, a child of freed slaves, graduated from Bates in 1920, went on to become president of Morehouse College, and was described by Martin Luther King Jr. as “my spiritual mentor and my intellectual father.”

The brief also includes a reference to 1965 Bates graduate Rev. Peter J. Gomes, University Minister and Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard University, a Bates trustee and a prolific author on topics of Biblical and Christian ethics. The brief asks rhetorically whether efforts to recruit students like Gomes are to be held unlawful “because Bates considers race along with all the other aspects of a candidate’s background?”

Bates is joined in the brief by Amherst, Barnard, Bowdoin, Bryn Mawr, Carleton, Colby, Connecticut, Davidson, Franklin and Marshall, Hamilton, Hampshire, Haverford, Macalester, Middlebury, Mount Holyoke, Oberlin, Pomona, Sarah Lawrence, Smith, Swarthmore, Trinity, Vassar, Wellesley, and Williams colleges, and Colgate, Wesleyan, and Tufts universities.

Read the entire friend-of-the-court brief as a PDF file at

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