What if the Supreme Court had ruled this past week that states have the constitutional right to require that their public universities consider only SAT scores when making admissions decisions?
Never happen, you might say. Because it's absurd. Common sense dictates that universities should consider many factors about a student when deciding whom to admit. People are complex and diverse. We're of different genders, from
UC President Janet Napolitano
different backgrounds, with different talents and academic interests. We are a wonderful, maddening mix.
Differences in perspectives matter. We want our students to learn in a community that reflects academic strengths and the diversity - gender, class, religion, national origin, and, indeed, race and ethnicity - that characterize our communities.
Consequently, admission is not a mathematical exercise performed by a robot. Florida, Michigan, Washington state and my own state of California, however, have taken race, ethnicity, gender and other attributes that define a person out of the admissions process. As president of the 10-campus University of California system, the nation's largest public research institution, I know firsthand the practical consequences of laws, such as the 2006 Michigan initiative the Supreme Court upheld this past week, that ban the consideration of such attributes in admissions. Although Tuesday's technically narrow decision doesn't forbid race-conscious admissions at public universities, it opens the door for more states to follow Michigan and California's lead.
Race, ethnicity, gender or any other cultural or biological trait should never be the sole criterion for admission to any public university - as this, too, would be absurd. By the same measure, they should not be singled out for exclusion. Race, for example, still shapes how people experience and react to the world.
In California, the legal barrier is Proposition 209, a state initiative passed in 1996. California is the most diverse state in the nation, and, like other academic institutions, the University of California has learned that diversity is important to our success. Diversity in classrooms and research labs improves learning for all students. It helps create an environment that transcends each student's experiences, assumptions and stereotypes. It teaches students how to function in a community that reflects the diversity they will find once they graduate. It fosters a campus climate where underrepresented minorities feel safe and respected.
In short, diverse campuses turn out graduates who are better prepared to succeed in modern workplaces and in our increasingly interconnected world. Diversity also gives the public confidence that the doors of the university - and the paths to leadership and economic well-being that the university provides - are open to everyone. Read the full op-ed on the Washington Post.
Janet Napolitano is president of the University of California system. She was secretary of the Department of Homeland Security from 2009 to 2013, and governor of Arizona from 2003 to 2009.