A new study by four legal scholars has provided some of the first empirical evidence in support of the diversity rationale for affirmative action in higher education. It’s sure to stir heated debate as lawsuits challenging race-conscious college admission policies continue to be filed and heard.
Decades after the Supreme Court ruling in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, Justice Lewis Powell’s diversity rationale for affirmative action in public education remains a hotly contested topic. In his opinion in the Bakke case, Justice Powell offered this justification for why a diverse student body is “a constitutionally permissible goal for an institution of higher education” – “[t]he atmosphere of speculation, experiment, and creation so essential to the quality of higher education is widely believed to be promoted by a diverse student body.”
Powell’s rationale continues to be the legal foundation upon which public colleges and universities can engage in affirmative action admission policies, but the grounds for believing that diversity enhances education and that students benefit intellectually from being exposed to peers from different racial and ethnic backgrounds have never been established empirically.
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