July 18, 2014
A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the University of Texas could continue its policy of considering race as a factor in its admissions process. As The New York Times pointed out, the ruling is part of an ongoing affirmative-action case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, which was considered by the United States Supreme Court last year but ultimately sent back to federal appeals court for reconsideration. The ruling, while controversial to some, sent across a message that colleges are justified in their use of race-based admissions to ensure a diverse student body.
Judge Patrick Higginbotham of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans shared that sentiment in his opinion. "To deny UT Austin its limited use of race in its search for holistic diversity would hobble the richness of the educational experience," wrote Higginbotham, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times.
The Supreme Court ruling in June of 2013 asked the 5th Circuit Court to determine whether race should still be considered in admissions after referencing the state's "Top 10" policy for public universities. According to the policy, public Texas colleges automatically admit the top 10 percent of students at all high schools in the state. The question to the 5th Circuit Court, as posed by the Supreme Court, was whether race-based admissions were still necessary while the highly successful and race-neutral "Top 10" policy was in force.
However, as The New York Times pointed out, the recent appeals court ruling indicates an overall feeling that while helpful, the "Top 10" policy doesn't necessarily go far enough to ensure diversity.
"While the Top Ten Percent Plan boosts minority enrollment by skimming from the tops of Texas high schools, it does so against this backdrop of increasing resegregation in Texas public schools, where over half of Hispanic students and 40 percent of black students attend a school with 90 percent-100 percent minority enrollment," read the 5th Circuit Court's majority opinion.
As Think Progress noted, after admitting the top ten percent of students from Texas high schools, UT Austin uses a "holistic review process" to select the remainder of its students. That's the point where the school considers race in its admissions, and that in itself may not be enough.
In 2008, "holistic review contributed 19% of the class of Texas students as a whole -- but only 12% of the Hispanic students and 16% of the black students, while contributing 24% of the white students," wrote the Fifth Circuit of appeals judges. "[I]f holistic review was not designed to evaluate each individual's contributions to UT Austin's diversity, including those that stem from race, holistic admissions would approach an all-white enterprise."
According to The New York Times, Abigail Fisher, the student who filed the initial lawsuit in this case, plans to take her case back to the Supreme Court of the United States for a final judgment, if needed.
Compiled by Holly Johnson
"Appeals Panel Upholds Race in Admissions for University," nytimes.com, July 15, 2014, Tamar Lewin, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/16/us/appeals-panel-upholds-race-in-admissions-for-university.html
"The University Of Texas' Affirmative Action Program Is Surprisingly Bulletproof," thinkprogress.org, July 16, 2014, Ian Millhiser, http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/07/16/3460598/the-university-of-texass-shockingly-bulletproof-affirmative-action-program/
"University of Texas can use race as factor in admissions, court rules," latimes.com, July 15, 2014, Maya Srikrishnan, http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-texas-affirmative-action-ruling-20140715-story.html