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Statement on the Supreme Court’s Decision in Grutter v. Bollinger

Middlebury College
June 24, 2003

In its decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, the law school admissions case from the University of Michigan, the United States Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of admissions practices that Middlebury College, and other selective liberal arts colleges and universities, have been following since the time the Supreme Court last addressed the issue of affirmative action in admissions in the 1978 Bakke case.

We are pleased that the Supreme Court agreed with the position that Middlebury and other residential liberal arts colleges took in the amicus curiae brief that was filed with the Court in this case. The Court recognized that diversity in admissions is a compelling interest, and that educational institutions may properly consider race in admissions in order to accomplish the goal of having a diverse student body.

The Court noted that diversity in higher education has many benefits: it breaks down racial stereotypes, it makes for livelier classroom discussion, it promotes positive educational outcomes both during and after college, and it better prepares students for careers in a diverse society.

We particularly note that Justice O’Connor, writing for the Court in Grutter, favorably cited Justice Powell’s opinion in Bakke supporting flexible, individualized consideration of race, among many other factors in the admissions decision, in the attempt to shape a class that serves the goals of both institutional diversity and academic selectivity.

For many years, Middlebury College, like other selective institutions, has been making admissions decisions in the way upheld by the Court in Grutter : providing “individualized consideration to each and every applicant, … giving serious consideration to all the ways an applicant might contribute to a diverse educational environment.” We will continue to follow this approach that has served us so well.

We also note the Court’s endorsement of an argument put forward in the amicus brief of Middlebury and other liberal arts colleges: that colleges and universities, especially independent institutions, have a special place in our constitutional tradition because of the importance of academic freedom, and that, in the exercise of that academic freedom, they may appropriately make the educational decision that diversity is an important institutional objective.

Diversity is important for Middlebury and other residential liberal arts colleges for a reason noted in our mission statement: “As a residential college, Middlebury recognizes that education takes place both within and beyond the classroom. The College seeks to maintain a diverse community committed to broadened educational opportunities within an atmosphere of respect for others.”

Diversity in many dimensions is of the essence of education at Middlebury: diversity of academic interests, diversity of co-curricular interests, diversity of opinion on political and cultural issues of the day, diversity of post-graduation plans, and diversity in terms of socio-economic, geographic, religious, and racial and ethnic backgrounds. A student body that is characterized by multi-dimensional diversity will provide all of its members, and, indeed, our faculty and staff as well, with an educational environment that is richer and more challenging because of its complexity. We are pleased that the Court has reaffirmed the importance of this conception of diversity through its decision in Grutter v. Bollinger.

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