A faculty task force at the University of Wisconsin in Madison is trying to find ways to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of its student body. But a ruling in a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court could make that harder to accomplish.
Undergraduate minority enrollment at the University System's flagship campus in Madison is below 15 percent. In a pending case against the University of Texas case the Supreme Court could rule to prevent universities from using race or ethnicity as a factor in their admissions policies. The keynote speaker at a diversity forum in Madison last week, Harvard Law Professor Lani Guinier says that would threaten ability of universities to produce the problem solvers the country needs, "What we need to do is use the experience of those who have been left out as the basis for rethinking the way in which we are teaching everyone. Because what we ultimately want is a diverse group of problem solvers who are not only leaders but collaborators."
It's not clear how a court ruling restricting minority student admission would affect diversity at UW-Madison. But Native American Student Services Coordinator Aaron Bird Bear says the UW will have to change more than its admissions policy if it wants a student body that includes more American Indians and other minorities, "We have these essential learning outcomes for all freshman but the developmental needs of racial and ethnic groups is far different from the general population and we don't have a clearly articulated essential learning outcomes and goals for the different racial and ethnic groups."
Bird Bear says until universities respond to those different needs and goals minority student populations will likely remain small.