Dirks responds to High Court ruling on affirmative action

In response to today’s U.S. Supreme Court opinion on affirmative action, Chancellor Dirks released the following statement:

I applaud the Court’s continued recognition in today’s Fisher v. University of Texas decision that our nation has a compelling interest in maintaining diversity in higher education, and that consideration of race can be a legitimate way for universities to support a level of diversity that generates benefits for all students. I also endorse the Court’s important acknowledgment that the judgments of educators regarding the educational importance of diversity are entitled to judicial deference. At the same time, I hope that today’s decision will help sustain race-conscious admissions policies wherever state law allows.

When Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Land-Grant Act in 1862 he sought to expand higher education beyond the privileged few and create a system “built on behalf of the people, who have invested in these public universities their hopes, their support, and their confidence.” What was at the time a revolutionary concept led to a system of public higher education that has catalyzed a dramatic expansion of opportunity and socioeconomic mobility for Americans of every ethnicity, origin and societal status. Institutions like UC Berkeley have a principled obligation to uphold Lincoln’s legacy by seeking to expand, not limit, access to a high-quality education for highly qualified students. Given that our public universities were built on “behalf of the people,” we cannot retain full support if our student bodies are not representative of the people we serve.

It is not only individual students from underrepresented minority groups who thrive as a result of our efforts to promote and support diversity on our college campuses. Even as our students benefit from their exposure to a diverse range of academic disciplines, they also benefit in profound ways from exposure to diverse perspectives and values that arise most productively in a campus community that is culturally, racially, geographically and socioeconomically diverse.

At the University of California we have experienced the unfortunate consequences of state law that precludes the consideration of race even in the context of a holistic admissions review. While race-neutral efforts to increase diversity on our campuses since the passage of Proposition 209 have had some limited success, the unfortunate reality is that our student body is now far less representative of the state’s population than it was prior to the proposition’s passage. Another result of this disturbing trend is that African American, American Indian and Chicano/Latino students face challenges when it comes to socialization on campus, and the attendant ability to derive full benefit from the broad spectrum of academic and non-academic experiences at Berkeley. Our experience shows that in some circumstances limited consideration of race in the context of a broader, holistic review of applicants for admission is necessary to achieve the full educational benefits of diversity.

It is reassuring to know that universities in states permitting the consideration of race in admissions will not be compelled to take the same unfortunate path the University of California has been forced to follow. Nevertheless, diversity remains a core value for our university as it strives to prepare our students to contribute to the critical public issues of our time.

Nicholas Dirks
Chancellor, UC Berkeley