The U.S. Constitution does not prohibit
the "narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to
further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits
that flow from a diverse student body."
--- Associate Justice Sandra
Day O'Connor, United States Supreme Court
Photo by Tom A. Mike
On June 23 the U.S. Supreme Court issued rulings on two of the
most closely watched cases in years --- cases that held importance
not only for Ithaca College and higher education, but also for
the whole of U.S. society. By a 5-4 majority, the court determined
that the affirmative action admission policies used by the University
of Michigan School of Law --- which give race some prominence ---
were constitutional. At the same time the court ruled 6-3 that
the university's undergraduate admission policies were unconstitutional
because they used a point system that gives too much weight to
an applicant's race.
The rulings essentially mean that race can be a factor for institutions
shaping their admission programs, because a broad social value
may be gained from diversity in the classroom. While they address
directly only admission at public institutions, the decisions will
have an impact on private colleges and universities, the business
world, and government policies that are aimed at boosting minority
enrollment, employment, and participation without violating the
Constitution's guarantee of equal protection.
I am pleased that the Supreme Court has upheld affirmative action
as one of the tools that may be used for increasing the numbers
of students from historically underrepresented populations in higher
education. Colleges and universities traditionally have enjoyed
significant latitude in fulfilling their mission to provide high-quality
education, and should be allowed to take into account racial and
ethnic diversity as one factor among the many considered in admission
As embodied in our mission statement as well as our Institutional
Plan, Ithaca College is committed to the notion of enhancing diversity
among our students, faculty, and staff. The court rulings will
allow us to continue our current admission policies, because we
do not assign points or otherwise have different standards for
prospects from different racial or ethnic categories.
We do act affirmatively in our admission outreach programs, by
committing resources to identify ALANA (African, Latino/Latina,
Asian, and Native American) students and to communicate to them
through direct mail, school visits, institutional partnerships,
alumni networking, and other focused activities. In addition to
the work of professional staff in the Office of Admission, student
volunteers known as Multicultural Ambassadors are a crucial component
in this effort. These students give of their time to phone prospective
students, host them for overnight visits, provide program support
with visiting groups, and plan and deliver specialized programs.
We also act affirmatively in the "yield phase" of
the admission process. Once an ALANA student has been accepted
on the basis of his or her academic achievement and other standard
admission factors, we make strong efforts to convince that student
to attend Ithaca College. One way we do this is by providing
financial assistance, committing a high level of institutional
aid through such programs
as Ithaca Opportunity Grants and the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholar Program.
We also invite selected potential students and their parents to visit the campus
as part of a program called Inside Look.
Our efforts have proven effective in increasing our numbers of
students from traditionally underrepresented groups. In five years
applications from those populations have increased by 88 percent
--- from 667 in 1998 to 1,252 in 2003. The number of such students
enrolled in the freshman class has actually doubled, from 82 in
1998 to 165 expected for this fall.
I wholeheartedly concur with Supreme Court
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's majority opinion: "The Court expects that 25 years from
now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary
to further the interest approved today." We still have a ways to
go, both here at Ithaca College and in all of higher education,
in our endeavor to give everyone an equal opportunity for access
to that education. The endorsement of affirmative action by the
Supreme Court will
help ensure that such progress will continue.
Peggy R. Williams