CONTACT: Debra Humphreys
No Turning Back on Integration, Equal Opportunity, and Diversity,
Higher Education Leaders Say
In Wake of Supreme Court Affirmative Action Decisions, Higher Education Embraces Expanded Role in Advancing Campus Diversity, Increasing Access to Higher Education, and Improving Academic Achievement in the Nation's Schools
Washington, DC—June 24, 2003—In a strongly worded statement released today, a coalition of higher education organizations representing the majority of accredited colleges and universities pledged to work to increase access to college for underrepresented groups and to provide the advantages of a diverse learning environment for all college students. These institutions also pledged to expand higher education's role in improving K-12 education, especially for those children currently underserved by the nation's schools and colleges.
"The Association of American Colleges and Universities, which spearheaded this effort, believes deeply that multiracial, multicultural classrooms provide faculty the best environment for teaching students what it means to be human in a troubled and complex world. We are delighted that both court decisions recognize diversity on campus as a compelling state interest," said John Noonan, president emeritus, Bloomfield College, and chair of the AAC&U board of directors.
Recognizing the complexity of the recent Supreme Court decision, the thirty organizations that issued the statement remind the public that, "The United States is far from finished with the long march toward integration and the achievement of equal opportunity for all." The statement released today juxtaposed the recent Supreme Court decision with the 50-year old Brown vs. Board of Education decision, contending that, "The historic juxtaposition of these two events—and the reality of continuing de facto segregation in schools and communities across the nation—should give pause to every American."
In the statement (www.aacu.org/About/diversity_democracy.cfm), which will appear in both The Chronicle of Higher Education (July 11, 2003) and The New York Times (June 27, 2003), the signing organizations made three commitments:
First, targeting the "deep inequities in access to schools of high quality," they pledged "to work in partnership with primary and secondary educators to improve dramatically the quality of educational outcomes for poor children and children of color";
Second, pointing to the achievement gap within higher education itself, they promised to redouble their efforts to ensure that college students from all backgrounds "receive a rigorous, horizon-expanding, and intellectually challenging education";
Third, citing the need for intercultural learning in a diverse democracy, they affirmed that, "every student should learn about the struggles for full inclusion in our democracy that have been a crucial part of the nation's history."
"This statement and the fact that so many higher education organizations signed it demonstrates forcefully that the academy recognizes its responsibililty to become a real partner in the effort to improve our K-12 schools, so that far more students—especially racial/ethnic minorities and those from low-income families—can successfully pursue a college education and be fully prepared to succeed once they are there," said Kati Haycock, executive director of Education Trust, one of the signers of the statement and an organization that works to improve academic achievement of all students from kindergarten through college.
"Those of us who lead national higher education organizations, all of which publicly supported the University of Michigan in defending its affirmative action policies, felt it was important at this historic moment to re-embrace our crucial role in fostering the intercultural relationships and learning we need in a diverse democracy," said Carol Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. "We felt further, however, that it was essential for the public to realize that, while we are pleased that the court upheld affirmative action policies, we are far from done with our nation's ongoing quest for equality and opportunity."
While the Supreme Court decisions will certainly result in changes to some college admissions policies, including those at the University of Michigan, this statement demonstrates a broad consensus and a continuing commitment to diversity within higher education. It concludes with the pledge that higher education leaders will "rededicate [themselves] to work with all means available to make knowledge a resource—both educational and civic—for achieving a racially inclusive democracy."
"This statement provides a strong renewed commitment of higher education leadership to address the fundamental sources of educational inequality. If there is good and effective follow-through, we may look back and thank the Supreme Court for jump-starting such a welcomed development," said Troy Duster, member of AAC&U's board of directors and professor of sociology at New York University and the University of California, Berkeley.
For the full text of the statement and the list of signing organizations, see www.aacu.org/About/diversity_democracy.cfm.
AAC&U is the leading national association devoted to advancing and strengthening liberal learning for all students, regardless of academic specialization or intended career. Since its founding in 1915, AAC&U's membership has grown to more than 1000 accredited public and private colleges and universities of every type and size.
AAC&U functions as a catalyst and facilitator, forging links among presidents, administrators, and faculty members who are engaged in institutional and curricular planning. Its mission is to reinforce the collective commitment to liberal education at both the national and local levels and to help individual institutions keep the quality of student learning at the core of their work as they evolve to meet new economic and social challenges.
Information about AAC&U membership, programs and publications can be found at www.aacu.org.