In my installation address on Saturday, I spoke to the importance of student body diversity to our educational mission. I noted that “we must ensure that diversity in all its dimensions is understood as necessary to our commitment to excellence.” Yesterday, a federal judge in Massachusetts issued a decision affirming our right and ability to meet that commitment, and I am writing to say a word about the significance of the Court’s decision.
In 2014, Harvard College was sued by an organization seeking to challenge the ability of institutions of higher education to achieve a diverse class through the consideration of race in admissions. Given my role at Harvard, I had principal responsibility for the University’s response to the case, which was tried last fall. In its thorough decision, the Court found that Harvard did not engage in discrimination through its race-conscious admissions process.
I will leave to others to comment on the implications of the decision for Harvard, but I would like to say a word about its importance to Gettysburg College and to higher education. We are devoted to the power of education to change lives and to change society. If the lawsuit against Harvard had been successful, it would have made access to selective institutions like Gettysburg more difficult for some of our nation’s most talented students. For students from groups that have too long and too often found themselves on the margins of American life, it would have made it more difficult for them to experience the social, cultural, and economic transformation higher education makes possible. And, ultimately, it would have made it more difficult for these students to discover their path to leadership—and for society to benefit from their voices and life experiences.
I am grateful for the Court’s decision and for its understanding that every student, from every background, benefits from the vibrant educational environment a diverse student body engenders. And I am grateful to be part of an academic community that recognizes that diversity is a source of our strength. Let us take the Court’s decision as an invitation to reaffirm our commitment to these values and to redouble our efforts to make this a fully inclusive community.