Diversity and Affirmative Action
Robert K. Fullinwider
: Last year, after the Board of Regents of the University of California System
voted to forbid racial preferences in admissions, Charles Young, the chancellor of
UCLA, remarked that "UCLA would not have achieved its current level of diversity
without affirmative action." He observed that more than two-thirds of entering students
in 1996 belonged to ethnic minorities, in contrast to 1980, when two-thirds of the
freshmen were Caucasian. "We are a much greater university today," he concluded,
"in large measure because we are more diverse."
Also last year, after a federal court struck down the policy of the University of
Texas Law School that reserved a portion of its entering class for blacks and Mexican-
Americans, the law school petitioned the Supreme Court for review. It urged the Court
to reassert the right of colleges and universities to give racial and ethnic preferences
in order to promote diversity on their campuses.
Two Kinds of Diversity
The word "diversity," which echoes in every campus debate about affirmative action
nowadays, joins ambiguity to ubiquity. On the one hand, the word has become simply
a term of art that means the same thing as "minority and/or gender representation."
When Chancellor Young spoke of UCLA's "current level of diversity," what he referred
to is the two-thirds ethnic minority representation on his campus. When universities
list their diversity policies, set up offices of diversity affairs, and measure their
progress in achieving diversity, the word in every case is a synonym for
On the other hand, when the University of Texas Law School asked the Supreme
Court to allow colleges and universities to take race and ethnicity into account in
selecting students, it invoked a second sense of diversity as a justifying reason. It
appealed to the idea that a university, given the kind of institution it is, needs a diverse
faculty and student body. This second sense of diversity refers to the mix of
viewpoints, opinions, talents, and experiences that enrich the university and facilitate
In a widely circulated report in 1996, Neil Rudenstine, president of Harvard University,
justified Harvard's commitment to diversity in this second sense by invoking John
Stuart Mill, who stressed the value of bringing "human beings in contact with persons
dissimilar to themselves, and with modes of thought and action unlike those with
which they are familiar." A diverse student body, argued Rudenstine, is as much an
"educational resource" as a university's faculty, library, and laboratories.
Consequently, Harvard takes great pains to assure that its admissions process results
in such a student body.
Elizabeth Anderson, a philosopher at the University of Michigan, makes a