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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, January 31, 2003

Hennessy reaffirms affirmative action Hennessy reaffirms affirmative action (January 31, 2003)

University has had a long commitment to diversity

by Don Kazak

Stanford President John Hennessy last week made a strong statement underscoring the university's continued commitment to affirmative action, a sentiment unanimously endorsed by the university's Faculty Senate.

Hennessy made his remarks in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's case about the University of Michigan's affirmative action policy. He said Stanford will contribute to an amicus brief -- a legal document filed by a third party not affiliated with the case -- with its peer institutions.

"We remain committed to affirmative action, to the importance of diversity broadly defined, and to the principles set forth in the Supreme Court's 1978 decision in the Bakke case as practical and appropriate means to achieve such diversity," Hennessy said.

The Bakke case addressed racial quotas in university admissions.

He also added that "academic performance and intellectual performance will always top the list" of considerations used in admitting students to Stanford.

Hennessy's comments echoed a strong statement made by his predecessor, Gerhard Casper, in 1995 -- a year before California voters approved a ballot measure eliminating affirmative action from state institutions. As a private university, Stanford was not affected, but Casper -- a constitutional law scholar - passionately defended the principle of affirmative action.

"Affirmative action is based on the judgment that a policy of true equal opportunity needs to create opportunities for members of historically underrepresented groups to be drawn into various walks of life from which they will be otherwise shut out," Casper said at the time. "Barriers continue to exist in society, and therefore affirmative action asks us to cast our net more widely to broaden the competition and to engage in more active efforts for locating and recruiting applicants."

Hennessy's statement came in the wake of renewed interest in the concept of affirmative action in the University of Michigan case and as President George W. Bush condemned the concept. Bush's administration recently filed the lawsuit attempting to overturn the University of Michigan's policy.

Bush's national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, has broken ranks with her boss -- at least in part. Rice, a longtime Stanford political science professor and university provost for eight years when Casper was president, said Stanford's strong affirmative action policy was responsible, in part, for her first being accepted at Stanford as a visiting scholar in 1981.

Rice is African American.

In a statement she released last week, Rice said that race-neutral policies of admissions are preferable, but she said that sometimes "it is appropriate to use race as one factor among others in achieving a diverse student body."

Stanford has long had a diverse student body, with a strong mix of international students in its graduate programs and with less than half of its undergraduates being white.

Stanford admitted 2,406 students out of the 19,000 who applied for acceptance to Stanford's class of 2005. Of those accepted, 43.6 percent are white, 24 percent are Asian American, 10.3 percent are African American, and 10 percent are Mexican American, with smaller percentages of international, Native American and other Hispanic students.

"Selecting students for admission to a university such as Stanford is an incredibly difficult and intricate process," Hennessy said. "A wide range of considerations is taken into account."

Academic performance is always at the top of the list of considerations, he added.

Hennessy said that Stanford will join other universities in filing arguments before the Supreme Court in the University of Michigan case.

-- Don Kazak can be e-mailed at


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