CITING A NEED FOR STUDENT DIVERSITY, Stanford joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dupont, IBM and others in filing an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in February, supporting the University of Michigan’s stance that race and ethnicity should be considered in undergraduate admissions. That same month, the Black Law Students Associations of Stanford, Harvard and Yale filed a similar “friend of the court” brief supporting the use of race in admissions at Michigan’s law school. Stanford Law School Dean Kathleen Sullivan also signed onto two briefs representing the views of law school deans, while law professor Pamela Karlan co-authored a brief for the Association of American Law Schools.
They were among the more than 300 institutions and individuals who filed more than 60 amicus briefs in the two cases, which many consider the most formidable challenges to affirmative action since the Supreme Court’s 1978 decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. In that decision, the justices banned racial quotas but agreed race could be one of many factors that schools considered in admitting students. Oral arguments in the two Michigan cases were held April 1, and more than 30 Stanford students joined the crowd of 50,000 who marched in Washington, D.C., that day to support affirmative action.
A decision against Michigan would not necessarily invalidate Stanford’s admission policies. Observers disagree about whether it would likely apply just to public schools, or also to private schools—such as Stanford—that receive federal funds. And Stanford and Michigan consider race differently. In undergraduate admissions, for example, Michigan uses a formula that automatically awards 20 points (on a 150-point scale) to African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans. Those 20 points can effectively raise an applicant’s grade-point average from 3.0 to 4.0. Stanford’s policy, by contrast, is flexible, granting “special consideration provided they meet basic requirements of academic excellence and personal achievement” to several groups, including “African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans and others whose backgrounds would provide additional dimensions to University programs.”
The brief that University general counsel Debra Zumwalt, JD ’79, signed on behalf of Stanford argues that “diversity (broadly defined and including racial and ethnic diversity) is in fact absolutely essential to the advancement of science and engineering.” It goes on to note that “minorities are even more under-represented in science and engineering fields than in others.”
That parallels findings that law students Alexis Karteron and Dawn Smalls uncovered in their research for the brief they co-wrote with students at Harvard and Yale and several attorneys. Karteron and Smalls drafted several sections of the 29-page document between December and February.
Their argument, Karteron explains, had two parts: first, that “the accomplishments of a critical mass of black students at elite universities contribute to those schools being able to meet their public missions”; and second, that alternatives to race-conscious programs would not be successful in a law school context. “Without affirmative action,” she says, “we know that elite universities would become incredibly racially segregated and, therefore, fail to graduate lawyers who are prepared to face the issues that we as a country face collectively with growing diversity.”