University Dons and Warrior Chieftains: Two Concepts of Diversity
30 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2004 Last revised: 29 May 2018
Date Written: March 2004
The diversity rationale the Supreme Court articulated in Grutter v. Bollinger encompassed two different sorts of educational benefits produced by student-body diversity. First, discourse benefits accrue from the exchange of diverse viewpoints and experiences on campus. Such benefits may have lasting effects beyond school, as minority and majority students alike apply lessons from school to life at large. This was the diversity rationale championed by Justice Powell's opinion in Bakke. Second, and in a departure from Powell's understanding of diversity in Bakke, the Grutter Court acknowledged that our multi-racial society realizes leadership benefits when minority graduates of top universities assume leadership positions in nationally important non-educational institutions like the military, Congress, leading U.S. corporations, and the federal judiciary. From this perspective, the presence of a diverse student body at an educational unit is important not so much for discourse on campus and its societal reverberations, but because the school serves as a gatekeeper institution to nationally sensitive leadership. The leadership-benefit concept of diversity was notably advanced by an amicus brief in Grutter filed by retired military officers.
There is marked variation in the extent to which higher educational institutions seek to, and in fact, confer these two sorts of benefits. Liberal-arts colleges represent the strongest case for the discourse benefits of student-body diversity. The selective military academies, whose graduates become commissioned officers of an institution quintessential to national interests, represent the strongest case for the gate-keeping leadership benefits of diversity. Undergraduate institutions, however, cannot stake as persuasive a claim to leadership benefits, because positions of national leadership in America today increasingly require graduate or professional education, the providers of which can correspondingly stake stronger claims to leadership benefits. The compelling interest test as formulated in Grutter should take account of this variation in mission and causation, with the consequence that student-body diversity might not suffice as a compelling government interest in every single higher educational context.
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