The future of affirmative action is uncertain as the Supreme Court hearings for Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard University began on Monday. Stanford submitted a brief in favor of Harvard and the use of race in college admissions earlier this year.
Stanford joined representatives of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, International Business Machines Corporation and Aeris Communications to argue that race may “shed light on the critical questions of a candidate’s ability to deal with adversity and make the most of the opportunities that the University offers,” in the brief.
The University has filed a total of three separate amicus briefs at different stages in the Harvard case: the Court of Appeals, the trial court case — and most recently — in the ongoing Supreme Court case.
The Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) filed the case, Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, against Harvard in 2014.
SFFA argued that affirmative action invites admissions officers to rely on anti-Asian stereotypes, accusing Harvard of violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in programs that receive federal funding.
A district court sided with Harvard in the case, as did the First Circuit Court of Appeals. The oral argument for the case occurred before the Supreme Court on Monday.
Stanford works to administer an admissions process that evaluates each applicant as a whole person, “diversity in all forms enriches the academic experience for all students,” University spokesperson Dee Mostofi wrote in a statement to The Daily. “Considering race as one factor in a holistic review of each applicant is appropriate to help achieve that diversity.”
Diversity is “essential to innovation and progress,” especially in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, Stanford wrote in the brief.
Over 50% of Stanford undergraduate and graduate degrees in 2021 were awarded in the fields of engineering, earth sciences, medicine and the natural sciences.
According to Debra Zumwalt, the University’s chief legal officer, Stanford could only file one amicus brief, and given that there were many other briefs filed in the Harvard case, “we decided to do a brief that focused on the importance of diversity in the STEM fields.”
Zumwalt referred The Daily to page 11 of the brief, where Stanford wrote that “while the benefits of a diverse student body are widely observable, they are all the more salient and compelling in STEM, which has historically been marked by greater limitations in diversity than most fields of study.”
As one of the nation’s most rigorous and elite institutions, American businesses at the forefront of STEM depend on the availability of Stanford’s diverse cross-section of talent graduates, according to the brief.
Paul Brest, former dean and current professor emeritus at Stanford Law School, agreed that it is beneficial for all students to have a diverse student body. However, he doesn’t believe that diversity is the only justification for affirmative action.
“I think it’s a perfectly legitimate justification to want to have traditionally underrepresented groups get university educations so that they and their communities can do better in society,” Brest said.