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University prioritizes diversity

Sheila Flynn | Thursday, September 4, 2003

Notre Dame, often criticized for its mostly-white student body, is a vocal supporter of affirmative action and would like to reach an ethnic minority population of 25 percent within the next few years, said assistant provost for admissions Dan Saracino.

“Our official stance is we’re 100 percent supportive of affirmative action,” Saracino said.

The University has been extremely vocal about its support for affirmative action within the last year, during which the University of Michigan’s admissions process was challenged in court for adding a significant number of points in the admissions process to students solely because they were ethnic minorities. Notre Dame signed a friend-of-the-court brief with about 37 other universities in support of Michigan’s policies.

“Even if there wasn’t, however, affirmative action as an executive order that was established in 1964, we would still be totally committed to affirmative action, whatever you would call it,” Saracino said.

“We are 100 percent in favor of diversity in the broad sense, whether it’s ethnic, socioeconomic, geographic – all of those types of diversity.

“Our commitment is to try to bring to this campus the brightest and the most diverse student body that we can.”

Saracino said the University does not compromise admissions standards for percentages and diversity. He said about 80 percent of applicants are fully equipped to handle Notre Dame academically, and the admitted students – ethnic minorities, athletes, legacies included – are chosen from that qualified percentage.

“Look at the figures this year,” he said. “We have the most diverse class in our history; at the same time, we have the most academically talented class in our history.”

He said, however, that Notre Dame undeniably gives special consideration to specific groups of applicants, and the University does not apologize for it.

The children of alumni, for example, comprise 23 percent of Notre Dame’s student body. Saracino said admissions counselors give legacy applicants an extra “nudge” in the admissions process, but only if they are equally qualified with the other applicants. Such a family tradition, he said, ensures the continuation of the Notre Dame family atmosphere, and also keeps the University’s finances stable.

Notre Dame enjoys the highest rate of alumni giving in theUnited States, beating out Ivy League schools and other top-notch institutions such as Stanford and Duke.

“In contributing financially, that helps keep the tuition lower than it would normally be, which then provides financial aid for those students, many of whom are minority, who cannot afford the place,” Saracino said. “It’s a very symbiotic relationship.”

Saracino said that, for as long as universities have existed, so have preferential admissions processes – for those who could pay, before financial aid; for athletes; for legacies; for the children of faculty and staff and other groups.

“It’s really unfortunate that the group that has benefited from some kind of preferential consideration for the shortest period of time was the group that was being attacked,” Saracino said of the Michigan case.