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Garry W. Jenkins ’92 on Fisher v. UT Austin

We spoke with Garry W. Jenkins ’92 over email about affirmative action policies at Haverford and the ramifications of the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case. Jenkins has sat on the Board of Managers since 2009 and is Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Law at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

What is an institution like Haverford’s role in a case like this?

Haverford is not a direct party to the case, but as one of the nation’s leading private colleges it wanted to make its views known to the Court. Parties do so through amicus (i.e., “friend of the court”) briefs. Haverford joined with a number of other peer colleges to help the Court understands broader potential implications of the ruling, provide context, and explain processes and procedures at colleges such as Haverford (which may differ from those used by the University of Texas).

How will this case affect an institution like Haverford?

Well, that will depend on what the Court decides and the rationale behind its ruling. The case involves the University of Texas, a public university, and Haverford is a private entity—not a public body. There are, however, potential implications for private colleges and universities.  First, because private colleges do not exist in a vacuum, it would be harmful to all institutions—public and private— if the U.S. Supreme Court declares that the use of race in admissions is a form of discrimination. Second, a Constitutional ban on the consideration of race in admissions for public universities might also reach private colleges under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids racial discrimination in programs that receive federal money. But this is only conjecture at this point.

Did issues concerning race or diversity affect your time either academically or socially at Haverford?

I believe that diversity contributes greatly to higher education. My own experience at Haverford and then at Harvard (for graduate school) was deeply enriched by the variety of perspectives and life experiences of my classmates. I saw it in classroom exchanges, and I felt it in late-night dorm debates. A diverse environment challenges students to explore ideas from varying perspectives, reconsider arguments, and test their hypotheses against those of different views and experiences.

Do you believe race will be considered a part of the admissions system fifty years from now?

I think diversity will always be important in higher education, employment, and other contexts. Race, whether we like it or not, continues to shape life experiences and opportunities in this country.  Unless we make significant changes in how educational and economic resources and opportunities are distributed, I think race will continue to be a relevant factor in our society. If that is the case then I hope admissions processes will continue to consider race until it is no longer relevant. Without a crystal ball, I do not think it wise to put a “shot clock” on the practice.

Is there anything you’d like to see changed on campuses like Haverford regarding issues related to race, diversity, and admissions?

I am extremely pleased by the steps Haverford has taken to become one of the most diverse and elite colleges in the country. The College has made great strides over the past 30 years and continues to do so.  For example, since 2008, the College has developed an amazing new partnership with QuestBridge (a nonprofit I have respect and started working with in 2002) to further increase the number of talented and diverse students at Haverford.  I applaud and support Dean Jess Lord and his staff for their terrific work. I have every confidence that under President Creighton and then under President Weiss, Haverford will remain committed to enrolling a diverse student body as well as recruiting a diverse faculty and staff as a means to achieve excellence.

Dozens of colleges and universities, business associations, government bodies (including the U.S. government, several states, and a group of military/national security leaders), research entities, educational associations, and advocacy groups around the country also have filed amicus briefs to make the case for diversity in higher education.  Haverford has partnered with several peer liberal arts colleges to explain why diversity is a compelling interest for colleges and universities. I hope that the Supreme Court will continue to permit educational institutions to be able to define their own missions, chart their own destiny, and exercise traditional academic freedom.

Other universities collaborated to submit briefs as well. For example, a coalition of large research universities filed a brief together […] as well as multiple coalition of private universities [..].  In addition, there are at least three other college/university coalition briefs. Also, Martha Minow and Robert Post, the deans of the Harvard Law School and Yale Law School, respectively, joined together on a brief in their personal capacities.

This is an important case on an important issue, so I am not surprised to see influential institutions attempt to persuade the Court; the stakes are high.

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