Affirmative Action, Educational Excellence, and the Civic Mission of Higher Education

Monday, October 14, 2002
adopted October 14, 2002 to replace 1995 statement

Committed through its mission to providing a powerful and contemporary liberal education to all students whatever their major, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) believes that higher education can do its best work when it embraces the diversity of ideas and experiences that characterize the social, cultural, and intellectual world. AAC&U has also long been committed to fair and equal access to higher education as part of our contribution to democracy's promise of equal opportunity.

Given these commitments, AAC&U has worked vigorously for many decades to identify and remove barriers to full participation whether for students, faculty, or administrators, with special concern for groups historically excluded from the material and educational benefits of higher education. The Association applauds the fact that through affirmative action policies and other creative strategies, colleges today are more diverse than ever in our nation's history. We believe inclusive communities are good for higher education, good for the quality of students' liberal learning, and good for our democracy.

Recognizing also that many parts of the United States society still remain underserved by higher education, AAC&U and its Board of directors wish to reaffirm our commitment to affirmative action as the major strategy for achieving equal opportunity. Affirmative outreach has proven an effective means for creating the diversity of students, faculty, administrators, and staff-from all backgrounds and economic circumstances-so necessary to educational excellence. AAC&U also recognizes that in their commitment to eliminating the legacies of societal discrimination, colleges and universities must be granted latitude and creativity as they devise the most productive ways to generate diversity on their own particular campuses.

The AAC&U Board of Directors views it as a matter of principle to state explicitly the association's continuing commitment to incorporating diversity as a central component of AAC&U's own educational mission. To this end, AAC&U will maintain and strengthen programs and publications that support diversity, while also ensuring that there is a diverse staff to implement the association's initiatives. AAC&U also commits itself to being a powerful public voice holding our country to its stated principles of equal opportunity and justice for all.

Persuasive research indicates that for all students, engaging diversity on campus and in the curriculum promotes intellectual development, enhances critical thinking, reduces prejudice, improves intergroup relations, and contributes to student academic success and satisfaction. Exploring diversity also produces graduates more likely to engage as informed citizens in remedying unsolved social problems.

Recognizing the high value of this learning, AAC&U will continue to commit resources to helping colleges and universities offer such rigorous, vibrant educational opportunities for all students. AAC&U also will continue to serve higher education by sponsoring research, organizing initiatives, and producing publications that examine, articulate, and strengthen the role diversity plays in fulfilling the academy's educational and civic mission.

1. For studies that elaborate on the findings mentioned in this paragraph, see Gurin, Patricia. 1999. New research on the benefits of diversity in college and beyond: An empirical analysis. Diversity Digest, Spring. pp. 5, 15.
See also:; Smith, Daryl G. and Associates. 1997. Diversity works: The emerging picture of how students benefit. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities; and Hurtado, Sylvia, Jeffrey Milem, Alma Clayton-Pedersen, and Walter Allen. 1999. Enacting diverse learning environments: Improving the climate for racial/ethnic diversity in higher education. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report Volume 26:8. Washington, DC: The George Washington University, Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

Education Law and Policy Alert on Recent Supreme Court Rulings on Affirmative Action. (PDF)

Diversity and Democracy: The Unfinished Work—AAC&U mobilizes coalition to respond to Supreme Court affirmative action decisions

Amicus Curae Brief supporting University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions policy. (See list of organizations filing supportive briefs.)

Amicus Curae Brief supporting University of Michigan's law school admissions policy