With the U.S. Supreme Court poised to rule once again on affirmative action, some Boston University officials and other university presidents have said the legislation is vital to higher education.
Inside Higher Education published a survey Friday finding while presidents of most universities agree that cutting affirmative action programs would be detrimental to their schools, a significant minority of opinion exists.
“The universities responded [to the call for affirmative action] because they recognized this was a serious problem,” said Julian Go, a BU professor of sociology. “The statistics showed that minority groups were underrepresented in education and I think those numbers spoke volumes.”
Go said reports suggest affirmative action is successful in enriching educational experience.
“Most studies show that having a diverse student body enriches everyone’s educational experience in the sense that people become more open to diverse perspectives and their views of the world are widened,” Go said.
Seventy percent of the 841 campus leaders surveyed agreed the consideration of race in admission has had a mostly positive effect on higher education, according to the survey. Furthermore, 58 percent of college presidents said the use of race in admissions has had a mostly positive effect at their specific institutions.
Inside Higher Ed interpreted this data as revealing a disparity of opinion among college presidents, according to the report on the survey.
“As unified as they have been in their public stances, college leaders do not hold uniformly positive views on affirmative action, especially when it comes to the question at the core of the Fisher v. Texas — the case before the high court,” the report stated.
Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed editor and co-founder, said the study was motivated by a need to show what college presidents are thinking as the court case is debated.
“We think it’s important to find out where college leaders stand,” he said in an email. “And with many experts predicting that the court could limit the use of affirmative action, we wanted our readers to know the ideas currently being considered by colleges for such a scenario.”
BU spokesman Colin Riley said BU’s admissions councilors take a holistic view of students. Every factor of their transcripts, recommendations, essays and level of achievement is taken into consideration.
“We look at the student in their entirety,” Riley said. “It helps us bring in students we know will have a high likelihood of success and are deserving of acceptance to Boston University.”
Arjun Banerjee, a first-year Graduate School of Arts and Sciences student, said he does not agree with affirmative action and that merit should be the most important factor in admissions.
“I believe very strongly in a merit-dependent system,” he said. “Affirmative action goes right in the face of that. I would be in favor of something that puts more weight on income, for example — I think affirmative action actually promotes more racial disparity than it fixes.”
Sarah Norris, a College of Arts and Sciences freshman, said BU is a diverse school with a large number of minority students and students from different backgrounds.
“It is important to have people from all different backgrounds but, especially with college, merit should be the first priority,” she said.
Chelsea Hermond, a School of Management sophomore, said while she does not believe affirmative action is fair, it helps maintain diversity, especially in the workplace.
“Retail shops I’ve worked at really emphasize having a diverse group of people where they are working so customers will feel more welcome into their stores,” Hermond said. “It’s a lot more evident in the workplace.”
She said she believes the affirmative action policies should stay as they are because they are doing no harm.
CAS sophomore Natalie Rock said she felt hard work and dedication should decide acceptance over race.
“I don’t think that it’s a good thing if it discredits somebody else’s work ethic or their merit based solely on ethnicity or the color of their skin,” Rock said. “If you are a qualified person or a good student, you should get the position or get into the school based on your hard work and dedication, not on other things.”
CORRECTION: The article initially interpreted Inside Higher Ed’s survey as reporting a majority of presidents support affirmative action. However, Inside Higher Ed interpreted the data as indicative that university leaders do not hold consistently positive views of affirmative action. The article has been updated to reflect this correction.