ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The University of Michigan's chief said Monday she is pleased that the school can continue to pursue a diverse student body, while a lawyer who challenged school policy praised the U.S. Supreme Court's decision invalidating a point system giving racial preferences in undergraduate admissions.
University President Mary Sue Coleman called the Supreme Court's rulings Monday "a tremendous victory for the University of Michigan (search), for all of higher education, and for the hundreds of groups and individuals who supported us."
In two separate rulings Monday, the court approved a program used at the University of Michigan law school that gives race a role in the admissions decision-making process. It struck down a separate point system used by the university to give minority preference in undergraduate admissions, but that ruling did not go as far as opponents of affirmative action had wanted.
Curt Levey, spokesman for the Center for Individual Rights (search), which filed the lawsuits on behalf of the plaintiffs, praised elements of the ruling and said it showed that the court expects universities to be moving toward race-neutral systems.
"Obviously, we're very gratified that the college's racial preference system was struck down," Levey said.
By upholding the law school policy, however, it leaves "a little bit of room for schools to use race," he said.
"I think what the court did is probably a reasonable compromise," Levey said.
Michele Mitchell, a black assistant professor who teaches history courses at Michigan, said she hopes the law school ruling "is going to have a positive effect."
"It seems to me that the racial climate on campuses has been deteriorating," said Mitchell, 38.
Plaintiff Patrick Hamacher, one of the whites turned away by the undergraduate school, said he happy about the decision in his case but "baffled that the Supreme Court didn't see the same principle at work in the law school." He had already graduated from another school, Michigan State University, as the case wound through the courts.
Another plaintiff, Barbara Grutter, who was not accepted to the law school, said that although the court upheld that admissions system, it is just a smokescreen for quotas.
"The majority of Americans care deeply about fairness and equality, and they're not fooled by terminology," Grutter said.
Coleman pledged that the University of Michigan would modify its undergraduate admissions system, "but make no mistake: We will find the route that continues our commitment to a richly diverse student body."
Robert Newby, a professor of sociology at Central Michigan University, said while the law school decision is positive, he's concerned about the implications of the undergraduate decision.
The decisions uphold the notion of diversity, Newby said, but will create real challenges for universities in how to ensure a diverse student body.
Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Betsy DeVos said while the Michigan policy was unfair, "the motives behind those policies are essentially good — to create more opportunities for minority students."