Survey Reports Educational Benefits of Diversity

Article excerpt

Abandoning admissions policies that foster racial and ethnic diversity on the nation's campuses threatens the quality of higher education, according to a study released in May by the AAUP and the American Council on Education (ACE).

The two-year study began when members of the AAUP's Committee on Historically Black Institutions and the Status of Minon ties in the Profession decided to develop a campus-based survey instrument to assess the impact of racial and ethnic diversity on teaching and learning. The committee saw the survey as a way to provide educational evidence in the debate over affirmative action in public higher education that has occurred over the past few years in California, Texas, Washington, and elsewhere.

Colleges and universities ini these states have struggled to maintain a diverse student body in the face of legal and political prohibitions against affirmative action. The legal support for diversity in higher education stems from Justice Lewis Powell's opinion in the Supreme Court's 1978 decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. Insitutions have relied on the landmark decision for more than two decades now to justify diversity-based affirmative action programs. Although Bakke has not been overturned by the Supreme Court, recent legal and political challenges to affirmative action cast doubt on the ability of colleges and universities to maintain these programs.

Institutions have learned that they cannot prevail legally merely by asserting that diversity is important; they must have data to demonstrate its educational benefits. "The survey instrument helps to fill that need," says Jonathan Alger, assistant general counsel at the University of Michigan and former AAUP counsel. "The data reveal that faculty members across a broad range of disciplines have identified specific ways in which diversity enriches the educational experience for all students."

To create the survey instrument, the AAUP formed a partnership with the ACE, Michigan State University, the Universities of Maryland and Minnesota, and a nationwide team of researchers. …