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Stanford joins MIT in amicus brief on importance of diversity in science and technology education

Stanford has joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a handful of leading institutions of science and technology in filing a "friend of the court" brief arguing the importance of diversity in science and technology education and the necessity of taking race and ethnicity into account in admissions policies to achieve that diversity.

Stanford and MIT, together with IBM, DuPont, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, signed the amicus brief in support of the University of Michigan.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments later this spring challenging Michigan's admissions policies, in which race and ethnicity, among other factors, are taken into consideration in selecting a diverse student body.

President John Hennessy said Stanford has a long history of supporting affirmative action as part of its educational mission. "Stanford has long recognized the importance of a diverse student body in creating the best learning environment for all our students. Although academic performance will always be the primary factor in our admissions process, the consideration of race and ethnicity as one factor among many helps achieve a diverse student body and fulfills our responsibility to prepare a generation of leaders that reflects the strengths and talents of all our nation's citizens," Hennessy said.

Scores of briefs were expected to be filed with the Supreme Court in support of race-conscious admission policies in the Michigan case. It is considered the most important challenge to affirmative action since the court's 1978 landmark decision Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, which disavowed racial quotas but affirmed the validity of considering race as one factor among other factors in admissions.

By focusing specifically on the importance of diversity in science and engineering, the brief filed by Stanford, MIT and others complements those that more broadly support affirmative action in higher education. In a fact sheet accompanying the brief, the signers write, "The brief focuses on the importance of diversity to science and engineering education, to our nation's science and engineering industry and, consequently, to our national economy and welfare." They note that many of the other briefs, including one to be filed by Harvard University, defend the importance of diversity in the educational process more generally.

"Amici assert that diversity (broadly defined and including racial and ethnic diversity) is in fact absolutely essential to the advancement of science and engineering -- in part for the same reasons that it is important for higher education generally, but also for a host of other reasons peculiarly related to these fields, and to their critical world role. And minorities are even more under-represented in science and engineering fields than in others," the brief states.

The brief argues that institutions aiming to achieve broad diversity must take into account race and ethnicity, among other factors. Like many highly selective institutions, Stanford and MIT use a complex and subjective process to consider, from a pre-screened pool of qualified candidates, each person's full range of accomplishments, experiences and potential.

"Overwhelming empirical evidence supported by over a century of scientific research unrelated to concerns over racial diversity indicates that a university's complex educational goals and institutional mission cannot be achieved solely by relying on objective criteria such as standardized test scores," the brief states. "Race, national origin and ethnicity, along with other considerations, are sometimes relevant in this assessment of an individual because they can provide a social and cultural context in which to understand an individual's accomplishments and life experience."

Meanwhile, in a separate announcement, the Black Law Students Associations of Stanford, Harvard and Yale said they were submitting an amicus brief in support of Michigan.


By Andrea M. Hamilton

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