Affirmative Action, Innovation And The Financial Future: A Survey Of Presidents

With the U.S. Supreme Court poised to rule (again) on the constitutionality of considering race in college admissions, higher education leaders have been in virtual lockstep — through legal briefs filed by scores of groups and associations, newspaper op-eds by individual presidents, and the like — in asserting that curtailing affirmative action would hurt the quality of the education students receive.

"The diversity we seek and the future of the nation do require that colleges and universities continue to be able to reach out and make a conscious effort to build healthy and diverse learning environments that are appropriate for their missions," the board of the American Council on Education, the country's main association of college presidents, asserted in a resolution related to the case last year. "The success of higher education and the strength of our democracy depend on it."

As unified as they have been in their public stances, college leaders do not hold uniformly positive views on affirmative action, especially when it comes to the question at the core of the Fisher v. Texas — the case before the high court — Inside Higher Ed's new Survey of College and University Presidents reveals. Only 70 percent of campus leaders agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that consideration of race in admissions has had a "mostly positive effect on higher education generally," and only 58 percent said the use of race in admissions has had "a mostly positive effect on education" at their institutions. (Some of the 42 percent who did not support the latter statement may work at nonselective institutions where race is not an issue in admissions.)

The presidents also expressed relative optimism about the likely outcome of the Fisher case, with a slim majority predicting that the court will impose merely “modest” limits on the use of race in admissions.

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