- The Washington Times - Monday, June 23, 2003

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision yesterday allowing colleges and universities to consider race in admissions is a triumph for businesses, corporate leaders said.

“It’s an incredible victory,” said David DeBruin, a lawyer who filed a brief on behalf of 65 companies supporting the University of Michigan’s admissions program.

In a 5-4 vote, the justices said the university may consider race when judging applicants for its law school. Separately, they voted 6-3 to strike down a system used by the university’s undergraduate school that awarded minority applicants points needed to gain admission.

The university drew unlikely allies from a legion of manufacturing, technology and financial-services companies.

Corporate leaders said the decision will promote diversity in offices and factories across the country by increasing the number of minorities in the nation’s colleges and universities.

More than 60 briefs were filed by a lobby of 300 companies, professional associations and universities that supported the University of Michigan.

Corporate heavyweights Coca-Cola Co., Microsoft Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp. and DaimlerChrysler Corp. aligned themselves with the university.

Their support stems from efforts to create diverse work forces, said James Hackett, chief executive of Steelcase Inc., an office-furniture manufacturer in Grand Rapids, Mich.

“All businesses realize it was important to maintain” work-force diversity, Mr. Hackett said. “I think the feeling is that businesses are benefiting from younger workers coming through more-diverse environments.”

Microsoft’s minority work force at U.S. operations grew from 16.8 percent of total employment in 1997 to 25.6 percent this year.

Outlawing programs that give colleges and universities leverage to consider race in admissions could reverse the progress that employers have made by reducing diversity in the labor pool, Mr. Hackett said.

“The companies were very concerned about their ability to recruit and hire students who were educated in the same environment in which they’d be working,” said Mr. DeBruin, who represented 65 companies with more than $1 trillion in revenue that supported the University of Michigan’s admissions policy.

Employers had other concerns, too, said Luke Visconti, co-founder of DiversityInc, a magazine and Web site in New Brunswick, N.J., that covers work-force issues.

Mr. Visconti said America wants more minorities at colleges and universities to bolster the labor pool, and more highly educated workers because they are likely to earn more money. If they earn more, they are likely to spend more.

“That’s the big untold story here,” he said.

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