Rutgers Makes No Apologies for Promoting Diversity

by Rutgers President Richard L. McCormick
As submitted; an edited version was published in The Philadelphia Inquirer on January 21, 2005.

In a recent op-ed, attorney Greg Sullivan criticized Rutgers University’s appointment of Jonathan Alger as General Counsel on the basis that Mr. Alger played a prominent role in defending the University of Michigan’s admissions policies in the Grutter and Gratz cases.

I will not and need not defend Rutgers’ hiring of Jon Alger, an immensely talented lawyer who is nationally recognized for his expertise on a wide range of issues important to higher education including academic freedom, intellectual property, media rights, and distance education. But I do take exception to Mr. Sullivan’s characterization as “racialist mischief” policies that have been deemed constitutional twice by the United States Supreme Court: first in Bakke (1978) and recently in Grutter (2003). The Supreme Court in both opinions endorsed the pursuit of diversity in admissions as constitutionally permissible. Mr. Sullivan seems to base his criticism of our hiring decision on Mr. Alger’s role as an effective advocate in convincing the Court to continue to allow educational institutions to foster diversity in admissions. If that is the case, it is a criticism we happily accept.

Rutgers takes seriously its responsibility to prepare students to live and work in a diverse democracy and a global economy. Our students are better prepared for the workplace because of the opportunity to learn in a diverse environment. When you attend school with people who are different from you, who come from unfamiliar backgrounds and bring divergent perspectives, you are more challenged intellectually and more fully prepared for life and work than you would be if your classmates and teachers all looked alike and came from similar economic circumstances and social backgrounds. For that reason, Rutgers takes great care in the admissions process to ensure an excellent and richly diverse student body.

It is gratifying to see that in surveys of our graduating students, more than 90 percent agree that a multicultural environment is important and that the university promotes respect for diversity. The U.S. Supreme Court also agrees that diversity has value in and outside the classroom. In Grutter, the Court applauded “the substantial, important, and laudable educational benefits that diversity is designed to produce, including cross-racial understanding and the breaking down of racial stereotypes.” We at Rutgers agree with the Court’s determination that diversity and excellence go hand in hand.

Mr. Sullivan is patently wrong in the claims he made about admissions procedures at our law schools in Newark and Camden. Neither law school “sets aside” a percentage of its entering places for minorities or anyone else. To do so would be unconstitutional under Bakke and Grutter. Rather, both schools strive to enroll a diverse class based on a broad range of factors, of which race is only one. Among the many other factors are educational experience, employment record, socio-economic background, extraordinary family circumstances, international travel and living, and community service and leadership.

Diversity is a core value of Rutgers. We believe strongly in its educational value, and we make no apologies for promoting intellectual, political, social, economic, ethnic, religious, gender, and racial diversity – and access for qualified students from a wide variety of backgrounds – on all our campuses. Furthermore, we take pride in the role our university has played in diversifying the legal profession and other sectors of the state’s workforce.

Rutgers will continue to pursue a broadly diverse student body within the guidelines the Supreme Court has provided. This is a challenge we welcome not only as an educational institution but also as the largest public research university in the great and remarkably diverse state of New Jersey.