Rush Holt said diversity is vital to science. | Chet Susslin/National Journal
The Supreme Court’s decision upholding racial preferences in public-university admissions drew broad support on Thursday from AAAS and other scientific and academic groups that had urged the court to weigh research findings underscoring the importance of diversity in enriching education.
AAAS and nine other groups filed an amicus curie, or “friend of the court,” brief in the case, Fisher v. University of Texas, Austin, last October calling on the justices to consider in their deliberations the results of research studies quantifying the benefits of diversity on the educational experience and in preventing the harm of racial isolation.
Rush Holt, AAAS chief executive officer and executive publisher of the Science family of journals, said AAAS “wanted to make sure that the best social science evidence was brought into the arguments, rather than ill-considered biased preconceptions.”
“Guaranteed diversity is not only right and humane, but also necessary for science to receive full contributions of all talented people, and for science to be applied for the benefit of all people in the world today,” said Holt.
The 4-3 decision, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing for the majority, found that the University of Texas’s admission plan taking race and ethnicity into consideration passed constitutional muster as a way to achieve educational diversity.
The closely-watched decision avoided upending admissions programs that consider race as one factor among others to ensure a diverse student body. Abigail Fisher, a white student who was denied admission to the university, brought the challenge against the university’s admissions policy saying it violated her constitutional rights.
Shirley Malcom said a diverse mix of STEM students boosts creativity and innovation. | Ginger Pinholster/AAAS
Shirley Malcom, director of Education and Human Resources at AAAS, also applauded the decision. Malcom has long been an advocate for increasing the ranks of minorities among students pursuing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.
“Diversifying the STEM community is really difficult; it would be made harder had the degrees of freedom available to our colleges and universities been reduced even further,” Malcom said. “Beyond the fact of the changing demographics of this country, is the growing awareness of the value of diversity in supporting creativity, knowledge creation and innovation in STEM.”
Felice J. Levine, executive director of the American Educational Research Association, which joined AAAS in the “friend of the court” brief, pointed to the limitations of race-neutral admissions programs in achieving diversity.
“In the interest of our nation’s students and American society at large, we must pay special attention to what empirical research tells us about the benefits of diversity in higher education and the positive impact of admissions policies that take race into account,” Levine said, adding that further research will continue to inform admissions policies.
Sally T. Hillsman, the executive officer of the American Sociological Association, called the decision a “victory” for higher education and underscored that research has found that diversity leads to a “decline in prejudice, improvements in students’ cognitive skills and self-confidence, and better classroom environments.”