How diversity can benefit all on college campuses

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

It was graduation weekend at George Washington University, where Steve has taught for the last 23 years. At a brunch for students and their families, one group stood out: a half-dozen women in brightly colored hijabs, traditional Muslim headscarves. They were there to support and celebrate Aliya, an honors graduate who also headed the Muslim Students' Association on campus.

We thought of that scene last week when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in the University of Texas affirmative action case. Liberals were pleased that the court left standing the university's system for promoting diversity; conservatives were encouraged by the directive that lower courts review the system and subject it to "strict scrutiny."

Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund summed up the import of the ruling: Affirmative action remains legal but must meet a "sharper and tighter standard" to survive future challenges.

Most of the commentaries, however, gave scant notice to a key point. All but one justice, Clarence Thomas, upheld the core doctrine advanced by the court in previous cases: Diversity—in all its forms—s an absolutely critical virtue in higher education.

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