Editorial: Diversity in Higher Education Gurumurthy Kalyanaram

As an academic, I am interested in the role of diversity in educational institutions, corporate work place, non-profit
organizations, and in public policy making. But, here, in this short essay, I want to focus on one important question: Should
diversity be a consideration to admissions in colleges and universities? This question resonates all over the world. In India,
diversity is largely represented in terms of gender and caste. In United States, one of the important representations of diversity
is race.
Diversity is evidently important purely from statistical point of view. We know that when data points are clustered, they provide
less information than when there is a reasonable spread in them. That is, heterogeneity is a source of information. Of course,
huge variance/spread in the data also leads to erroneous inferences/information. Analogizing, extreme postures/criteria
distort the value of diversity but heterogeneity does add value to decisions and experiences.

To deepen the understanding, here, I restrict my discussion to admissions to US higher educational institutions. Policies that
are optimal for US are at least suggestive for other societies and somewhat generalizable to different situations of our decisionmaking
and choices.

While the overall enrollment in higher education may be declining in US, admission to the good schools has become
monumentally competitive. For example, in recent years, the admission rates in elite institutions have hovered around 5
percent (University of Chicago’s rate has plummeted to about 8 percent from about 40 percent.) The admission rates are less
than half of what they used to be a decade earlier. Deluged by more applications than ever, the selective educational
institutions are rejecting a vast majority of applications. In this context, admission to a credible educational institution is a
matter of substantial public import and it is worth examining if diversity should be an element in admission decisions.
The highly selective institutions like Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, Yale and others, use a complex and subjective process to
consider, from a pre-screened pool of qualified candidates, each person’s full range of accomplishments, experiences and
potential. To achieve broad diversity, the institutions also take into account race and ethnicity, among other factors.
Large number of educationists and policy makers argue that a diverse student body promotes cross-racial understanding and
dialogue, reduces racial isolation and helps to break down stereotypes. And that such education better prepares students to
contribute in an increasingly diverse workforce and society.

However, there are others who argue that meritocracy is the best approach to admissions. Equal protection under the
Constitution and fairness demand that an otherwise better qualified applicant be not denied admission because of diversity
consideration – be it gender or race (or caste).

Both arguments are reasonable and persuasive. But as a society, we have to make choices in the consideration of larger societal

For this, we turn to the US Supreme Court and briefly examine the arguments presented to the Court and how the Court has
addressed the role of diversity as an element in admissions to US Colleges and Universities. In arguing before the Court, both
the proponents of the consideration of diversity and those opposed to such consideration, over and above merit, make their
most compelling presentations.

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