Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Supreme Court docket - Fisher v UT

An important case that is on the Supreme Court docket this term is Fisher v UT.  It involves UT's admissions policy that gives preference to minorities.  This is the latest of a string of cases that have tried to balance our philosophical belief in race-blind admissions with an affective need to compensate for past and present prejudice and disadvantage. 

But I want to focus on something else today.  The Fortune 500 is in favor of UT's admissions policy not because of affirmative action but because of the purely utilitarian benefit of diversity.  Affirmative action may cease to be relevant (someday) or be discriminatory according to the law.   

But diversity is not.  There is a growing body of deliberation research that demonstrates the value of diverse teams when collaborating, deliberating, and deciding.  These benefits accrue to everyone - minority, majority, and the customer of the decision.  So companies value diversity at universities because it gives them smarter customers and employees.  Not just the few minority students who get into the school because of the policy, but also the tens of thousands of others. 

If you look at the details of the research, the critical factors that improve the team's discussion are diversity of thinking style, knowledge, and experience.  Not all of this is related to race.  Cognitive style is not correlated with race at all.  But experience?  Definitely. 

Unfortunately, most of the news coverage shows that everyone is focusing more on the affirmative action aspect of the admissions policy and are ignoring the more important, valuable, and broad based benefits.  I heard one pundit claim (ignorantly) that the companies are in favor because they want to promote "racial harmony."  Give me a break. 

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