Survey Shows Strong Public Support For Affirmative Action, Diversity
A new survey shows that two-thirds of Americans support affirmative action and recognize the value of diversity on college and university campuses. The Americans for Fair Chance (AFC), a consortium of six of America’s leading civil rights legal organizations released the polling results last month to coincide with the national release of a new book by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University. The book, Diversity Challenged: Evidence on the Impact of Affirmative Action, argues that when colleges and universities employ policies to create more racially and ethnically diverse student bodies, all students benefit from broader educational experiences and better preparations for careers in multiracial democracy.
“Affirmative action programs are at an important crossroads, and it is critically important that we in the civil rights community join forces to emphasize the value of diversity in our communities,” says Georgina Verdugo, AFC executive director.
The public opinion polling on behalf of AFC found that 64 percent of Americans support overall affirmative action for women and minorities. The survey also looked specifically at college admissions — one of the fiercest legal battlegrounds for affirmative action and the focus of Diversity Challenged. The poll found that 66 percent of Americans agree that college admissions criteria should include students’ entire backgrounds as well as their tests and grades.
Diversity Challenged, edited by Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project, forecasts that affirmative action’s legal and political future may turn on a single question — whether the educational value of diversity is sufficiently compelling to justify consideration of race as a factor in admissions decisions at colleges and universities.
“The research in Diversity Challenged shows that affirmative action policies have major benefits not only in overcoming the history of exclusion of minorities, but also in creating a richer educational experience for all students and injecting new ideas and understandings into discussions, debates and research on campus,” says Orfield.
The book “lends powerful new support for the proposition that diverse student communities yield substantial and otherwise unattainable educational benefits,” says John Payton, a partner at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering and lead counsel for the University of Michigan.
The University of Michigan is involved in two lawsuits — Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger — that center on the key question of whether diversity is a compelling interest to justify the use of race-conscious affirmative action in admissions. In Washington, Georgia and other areas around the country, affirmative action programs are also under attack. Recent legal rulings have sent confusing and contradictory signals, suggesting that the U.S. Supreme Court will accept a challenge to affirmative action within the next two years. Lawyers at the Center for Individual Rights, the conservative group representing plaintiffs in both Michigan cases, have filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court for a hearing on affirmative action in higher education.
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