Supreme Court may alter affirmative action policies
Published: Thursday, October 11, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 11, 2012 00:10
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments over the role of race in college admissions on Wednesday, which could mean a decision that alters affirmative action in higher education.
Abigail Fisher, 22, said she was denied admission to the University of Texas in Austin because she was white. The case Fisher v. University of Texas, calls into question the use of race in Texas college admissions, but more broadly it questions whether affirmative action still has validity in the admissions process.
“There were people in my class with lower grades who weren’t in all the activities I was in who were being accepted into UT, and the only other difference between us was the color of our skin,” Fisher said in a statement.
The University of Texas has a hybrid admission policy for its applicants. In-state students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class are automatically admitted, and avoid the review process where the university considers test scores, community service, leadership and work experience and race in order to create a diverse student body.
“We take ethnicity as one of many factors in our holistic review to make sure the three quarters coming in under automatic admission, that we add to that with a quarter coming in with these other characteristics including diversity,” Bill Powers, President of UT Austin told CNN.
The implications of the case surrounding educational opportunity and diversity have caused several scholars to weigh in on the topic.
“Diverse colleges and universities will not happen on their own,” Marcia Greenberger, founder and co-president of the National Women's Law Center, said. “If we don’t cultivate diversity, the persistent effects of often unconscious stereotypes and other obstacles to success will result in too many women being shut out from opportunity and will narrow the experience of us all.”
Others were wary of impacts of the decision at hand on Texas education.
“Equal educational opportunity remains an elusive goal in Texas as throughout the nation,” Thomas Saenz, President of Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said.
“Texas, in particular, has faced and continues to face ongoing inequities in its funding of public schools; because of segregation, these disparities correlate strongly with race. This and other educational inequities, while not strictly a part of the constitutional test in this case, are critical context in evaluating a program designed to ensure that all university students receive the benefits of student body diversity."
The Fisher case joins a long list of affirmative action cases where the Court has traditionally upheld race as a factor in admissions.
In 1996, Cheryl Hopwood and three other white UT Law School applicants challenged the school’s affirmative action program, arguing they were denied admission because of unfair preferences toward minority students. A U.S. Court of Appeals suspended the university’s affirmative action program and dismissed the university’s argument to create diversity. In 1997 the Supreme Court upheld the decision.
However, the Supreme Court in 2003 invalidated the Hopwood decision, upholding the University of Michigan’s use of race and ethnicity in admissions. In the majority opinion, former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor ruled that the university used a “highly individualized, holistic review of each applicant’s file.” The court ruled the school’s point system that awarded minorities extra points unconstitutional.
The current case is Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (11-345). According to the Los Angeles Times, a decision on the case might take several months. Only eight justices will decide on the case because Justice Elena Kagan withdrew.
*McKinzie Brocail also contributed to this report.