DIVERSITY: VALUABLE IN ITS OWN RIGHT
By Dennis W. Archer
President, American Bar Association
The United States may finally be coming of age in its discussion of race.
The Supreme Court decision this year in the University of Michigan Law School admissions case reached the correct conclusion, reiterating a decision the Court had issued 25 years before in University of California v. Bakke. But this time the justices reached that conclusion for the correct reasons.
The Court upheld consideration of race in law school admissions decisions because diversity is good in its own right.
Until this decision, factoring race into selection processes has been addressed in terms of favors granted to a select few. "Should we set aside a number of slots for these people? Should we lower our standards to help that set of applicants? Is it fair to let this person in to make up for past unfairness to someone else?" These are the questions we were asking in talking about affirmative action.
This time the Court recognized the inherent value in diversity, value that benefits everyone who is a part of it. It based its decision on the value that diversity brings to all of us in the opportunity for learning, growth and heightened achievement, simply from mingling as part of society's stew.
That value is genuine and tangible. But even for individuals who dismiss that analysis, diversity has value that our national leaders from every sector must embrace if our nation is to flourish, value that this country must embrace if it hopes to maintain its leadership position in the world.
Right now, people of color comprise the world’s majority population. Soon, the United States’ census will reflect this global reality. And while people often perceive change as threatening, this change should more appropriately be perceived as a gift.
For far too long, diversity has been thought of as something that takes away from some to give to others, as if opportunity exists only in finite quantities. In reality, diversity gives to all.
It brings us new creative human resources to solve the problems that will continue to confront all of us in the future. It brings the gifts of new artistic expression in our galleries, museums and music halls; in the brilliantly hued patterns of our textiles; in the exotic new flavors in our restaurants.
People of color have always covered the globe, but the globe is shrinking, and we now do business with people from different cultures every day. As the so‑called Third World countries continue to develop their economies and their governments, their people become more and more an economic force with which we will need to deal. Our corporations understand that, and have diversified their workforces to reflect the faces of their consumers both domestically and abroad. For the past 20 years, corporate leaders with foresight have sought to diversify their professional resources as well as the human resources on their production lines.
That same understanding is bringing corporate executives, law firm managers and other leaders of the legal profession to Washington, D.C., this week, to an American Bar conference on diversity, under the rubric of "Opening the Pipeline."
The ABA, like many other institutions in this country, has come late to the realization that diversity brings inherent rewards. Through this conference and other initiatives, we are working to make sure that the legal profession not only accepts and values those rewards, but uses the lessons of diversity as we strive to meet our responsibilities to the law, to the Constitution and to the people who look to us to lead.