President Lee C. Bollinger's Statement on the Supreme Court's Ruling on Diversity in Education

June 24, 2013

For American colleges and universities, today’s Supreme Court ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas is most significant for its reaffirmation of the educational value in preserving our decades-old ability to assemble racially and culturally diverse student bodies that advance our mission. At Columbia, we take great pride in an undergraduate student body with as high a percentage of low- and moderate-income students as any of our peer institutions and the largest number of military veterans, as well as the highest percentage of African American students among the nation’s top 30 universities. Over and over, our students tell us that they come for the intellectual excitement produced by the various kinds of diversity on our campus. In fact, when I addressed Columbia’s class of 2013 at last month’s commencement, the loudest applause from the graduates came in response to my suggestion that encountering the diversity of their talented classmates was the most influential part of their experience on campus. 

To be sure, the Court has insisted on strict scrutiny of how we achieve these valuable goals. But as decades pass from the Civil Rights era defined by the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, we should be mindful that that we don’t lose a vital sense of connection to the larger social issues that animate these policies and constitutional principles. As scholars and citizens we must understand both our history and the continuing reality of a society that has struggled with racial equality. Our great system of higher education is just one among our public and private institutions and businesses that embrace the continued importance of diversity in our country.

Lee C. Bollinger
Columbia University