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Ben on BenchOn Affirmative Action

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court debates the future of affirmative action in university admissions. The implications of the Court's ruling will be critical to colleges and universities across the country and may influence policies and programs beyond admissions. Thus, there is no more important time to reaffirm that the University of Pennsylvania embraces diversity as critical to our core mission of preparing graduates to live and thrive in a global society.

We view diversity several ways: as central to the protection of our academic freedom in assembling a student body that serves our educational mission; as a vehicle for meeting the expressed needs of professions and society's institutions for graduates of all backgrounds; and as a rich source of knowledge and insight.

Penn can trace its commitment to diversity directly to Benjamin Franklin, who founded Penn as America's first secular, non-sectarian college to produce graduates whose ideas and works would benefit humanity. Since the global society, broadly, and American society, in particular, are made up of men and women from all races, faiths, economic backgrounds, and national origins--not to mention interests, talents, and political beliefs--our students' education depends upon full and frequent exposure to a broad range of students and ideas.

Our mission, at its core, is to educate. And we believe that homogeneity stifles learning. By adopting admissions policies that embrace diversity, Penn creates a richer environment that offers all our students the opportunity to deepen their understanding of the world through exposure to peers whose ideas, background, and cultures differ from their own. Our students emerge from these encounters more fluent in other cultures, more aware of the ways that prejudice thwarts intellectual growth and social progress, and better prepared for the challenges of humane leadership in local, national, and global arenas.

Our commitment to diversity is also a logical extension of our pedagogical mission to educate our students for professional success and active citizenship. We encourage, and even require our students to take courses in a wide variety of disciplines because we want them to acquire an expanded range of skills, knowledge, experience, and perspectives that they will need in the world beyond the University. Otherwise, we shortchange our students by allowing them to remain safely in their respective comfort zones.

Last year, the Trustees reaffirmed their general commitment to diversity by adopting the following statement:

"Penn rejoices in the rich diversity of persons, groups, views, and academic disciplines and programs that grace the campus of the nation's first university. Tapping our diversity to strengthen ties across all boundaries enriches the intellectual climate and creates a more vibrant community. Fostering and nourishing this diversity, especially among students, faculty, staff, and trustees must remain central to the core missions of the University."

In 2003, Penn is thriving as never before, and we have the markers of academic excellence and success to prove it. As an expression of our commitment to diversity as a core institutional value, affirmative action has been an important component of our strategy to bring exceptional students from all backgrounds, interests, and talents into Penn's community of scholars, and these students have played an important part in our success.

Penn remains committed to the ongoing pursuit of intellectual, cultural, social, and ethnic diversity within our community. Diversity is not just a buzzword. It's a critical commitment to the life and mission of this great University to offer our students a superior education and to serve the public good.

James Riepe, Chairman, Board of Trustees
Judith Rodin, President




  Almanac, Vol. 49, No. 28, April 8, 2003