WASHINGTON -- Thirty-seven college associations on Sunday issued a joint statement on the importance of diversity in American higher education.
"A diverse student body enables all students to have the transformational experience of interacting with their peers who have varied perspectives and come from different backgrounds. These experiences, which are highly valued by employers because of their importance in the workplace, also prepare students with the skills they need to live in an interconnected world and to be more engaged citizens. Our economic future, democracy, and global standing will suffer if the next generation is not ready to engage and work with people whose backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives are different from their own," says the statement, published as an advertisement Sunday in The New York Times.
"We remain dedicated to the mission of discovering and disseminating knowledge gained through direct experiences with diverse colleagues -- a resource for achieving a stronger democracy and nation," the statement added.
The statement was issued in the wake of last week's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court  to return to a federal appeals court a challenge to an affirmative action policy in admissions at the University of Texas at Austin. Many educators feared that the decision would reverse past Supreme Court decisions upholding the right of colleges to consider race or ethnicity in admissions decisions. And the college groups' advertisement noted with approval that the justices did not do so.
But the college groups' statement made no mention of the parts of the Supreme Court decision that could pose difficulties for colleges that want to consider race and ethnicity in admissions.The statement focuses on the decision's affirmation that courts should give deference to colleges on the decision that they have educational objectives that can be best accomplished through having a diverse student body. The associations make no mention of the Supreme Court's order that lower courts grant no deference to colleges in evaluating whether their affirmative action plans have been designed and carried out with "narrow tailoring." On this question, the Supreme Court said, lower courts should not be satisfied that colleges are acting in "good faith" alone.
Ada Meloy, general counsel at the American Council on Education, which coordinated the joint statement, said that "we're hoping to make sure that the public and our member institutions will recognize that we still vigorously support diversity in higher education and continue to see it as a national priority."
As to why the statement didn't address the part of the decision on "narrow tailoring," Meloy said that "in putting out a statement of this type, we couldn't address all the nuances, all the parts of the decision."
Edward Blum, director of the Project on Fair Representation, which provided legal counsel to Abigail Fisher, the woman who sued the University of Texas, said via e-mail that the college associations are ignoring what the Supreme Court said about their obligation to consider race-neutral means of achieving diversity. He noted that the Supreme Court set a high bar for colleges to demonstrate that it was necessary to consider race -- irrespective of the educational value of diversity.
"While racial diversity on college campuses is beneficial, it cannot be achieved by racial discrimination," he said.