The best thing about the last week of the Supreme Court's term is that the waiting ends and we can move from predictions (gloomy or otherwise) to analysis.
Here's the bottomline from the much anticipated Fisher v. UT Austin decision — affirmative action in higher education can and should continue (please see our amicus brief for a whole host of reasons why). This is one of those decisions that deserves a close read — I've now done so and have included five key points from the decision that should not go unnoticed.
Grutter was not overturned. In fact, the Supreme Court followed the decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, that an admissions policy that carefully considers racial and ethnic diversity as one of many factors is constitutional.
The Court acknowledged the importance of diversity to institutions of higher education. The Court reiterated that it defers to a university's judgment that such diversity is essential to the educational mission. As the Court explained, a diverse student body "serves values beyond race alone, including enhanced classroom dialogue and the lessening of racial isolation and stereotypes."
On Wednesday, October 10, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the constitutionality of UT Austin’s undergraduate affirmative-action admissions program. The vast majority of students are admitted under the state’s Top Ten Percent Plan, which requires UT Austin to admit all Texas residents who rank in the top ten percent of their high-school graduating classes. The University also admits a small percentage of its students through a separate process that involves careful, holistic review of all aspects of an applicant’s qualifications, including such things as leadership experience, special talents, work experience, community service, languages spoken at home, family responsibilities, extracurricular activities, and race. It is this modest consideration of race as part of a holistic review that is before the Supreme Court.
Less than ten years ago, in its review of the University of Michigan Law School’s admissions plan, the Supreme Court outlined the many benefits of diversity in higher education. The Court recognized that racially diverse educational environments reduce stereotypes by exposing students to diverse individuals. That diversity helps students encounter a wide range of ideas and experiences, which improve the quality of the education that they receive and help prepare them to be leaders in an increasingly diverse society.Historically, affirmative-action policies have promoted not only racial but also gender diversity, helping eliminate barriers to women’s entrance into historically male-dominated fields such as engineering and computer science. And many educational institutions, and many state universities in particular, have come to value the benefits of diversity as being critical to the educational mission of cultivating civic, government and business leaders. Read more »
Yesterday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a challenge to the affirmative action plan used by the University of Texas at Austin. Currently, the university allocates over 80 percent of its slots to students who graduate in the top ten percent of their public high school. For the final 20 percent, the university considers many factors, including grades, a personal essay, character, special talents, socio-economic circumstances, and race. As the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held last year in upholding the constitutionality of the plan, UT-Austin carefully crafted its plan to comply with the Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger, which held that consideration of race in public university admissions could properly forward the compelling interest in diversity in education.
One of the great promises of public education, at every level, is its potential to create a student body drawn from a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives, enhancing the educational experience of all students. As the Supreme Court recognized in Grutter, “Numerous studies show that student body diversity promotes learning outcomes, and better prepares students for an increasingly diverse workforce and society, and better prepares them as professionals.”
Racial diversity within schools breaks down stereotypes that feed and perpetuate inequality. This is particularly important for women because many of the most poisonous racial stereotypes are also gender stereotypes—for example, that black women are promiscuous, that Asian women are subservient, or that Latina women are domestics. Read more »