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Release: Immediate

Association of American Universities Statement

on the Importance of Diversity in University Admissions

April 14, 1997

For some time, the consideration of ethnicity, race and gender as factors in college and university admissions has been strenuously discussed both within and outside of the academy.

The public debate about the goal of diversity, as well as affirmative action; the 1995 decision of the Regents of University of California to discontinue any special consideration of ethnicity, race and gender as factors in admissions; the passage of Proposition 209 in California; and the Hopwood ruling of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals have all combined to create substantial uncertainty about the future representation of minority students within our student bodies. Special efforts to identify and enroll women -- particularly but not only in fields such as mathematics, the physical sciences and engineering -- may also be affected.

As members of the Association of American Universities, we therefore want to express our strong conviction concerning the continuing need to take into account a wide range of considerations -- including ethnicity, race and gender -- as we evaluate the students whom we select for admission.

We speak first and foremost as educators. We believe that our students benefit significantly from education that takes place within a diverse setting. In the course of their university education, our students encounter and learn from others who have backgrounds and characteristics very different from their own. As we seek to prepare students for life in the 21st century, the educational value of such encounters will become more important, not less, than in the past.

A very substantial portion of our curriculum is enhanced by the discourse made possible by the heterogeneous backgrounds of our students. Equally, a significant part of education in our institutions takes place outside the classroom, in extracurricular activities where students learn how to work together, as well as to compete; how to exercise leadership, as well as to build consensus. If our institutional capacity to bring together a genuinely diverse group of students is removed -- or severely reduced -- then the quality and texture of the education we provide will be significantly diminished.

For several decades -- in many cases, far longer -- our universities have assembled their student bodies to take into account many aspects of diversity. The most effective admissions processes have done this in a way that assesses students as individuals, while also taking into account their potential to contribute to the education of their fellow-students in a great variety of ways. We do not advocate admitting students who cannot meet the criteria for admission to our universities. We do not endorse quotas or "set-asides" in admission. But we do insist that we must be able, as educators, to select those students -- from among many qualified applicants -- who will best enable our institutions to fulfill their broad educational purposes.

In this respect, we speak not only as educators, but also as concerned citizens. As presidents and chancellors of universities that have historically produced many of America's leaders in business, government, the professions, and the arts, we are conscious of our obligation to educate exceptional people who will serve all of the nation's different communities. The evaluation of an individual applicant to our universities cannot, therefore, be based on a narrow or mainly "statistical" definition of merit. The concept of merit must take fully into account not only academic grades and standardized test scores, but also the many unquantifiable human qualities and capacities of individuals, including their promise for continuing future development. It must include characteristics such as the potential for leadership -- especially the requirements for leadership in a heterogeneous democratic society such as ours.

We therefore reaffirm our commitment to diversity as a value that is central to the very concept of education in our institutions. And we strongly reaffirm our support for the continuation of admissions policies, consistent with the broad principles of equal opportunity and equal protection, that take many factors and characteristics into account -- including ethnicity, race and gender -- in the selection of those individuals who will be students today, and leaders in the years to come.