Supreme Court Considers Role of Affirmative Action in College Admissions

Supreme Court

October 11, 2012

The role of affirmative action in college admissions has long been a subject of controversy. While some argue that it increases diversity, others argue that it provides an unfair advantage for certain students. The Supreme Court is now visiting the issue in a case against the University of Texas.

As The Pendulum explained, the case originated four years ago, when Abigail Fisher, a white woman, was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin. Fisher claims that less-qualified minority students were given preference over her in admissions, a decision she deems unconstitutional. While the case began in 2008, the Supreme Court is coming closer to making its decision.

Caryn McTighe Musil, senior vice president for diversity at the Association of American Colleges and Universities, expressed concern in The Daily Helmsman with the possibility of the Supreme Court voting in Fisher's favor: "There are many who are worried it will remove one more tool that higher education has to serve the goal that there is broad diversity in the student body." Many proponents of affirmative action point to California as proof of this concern. In California, a year after a state law prohibited racial preferences in college admissions, the number of black, Latino, and Native American freshmen at UCLA and UC Berkeley declined by over 50 percent. Gary Orfield, a UCLA professor who has extensive knowledge on school desegregation and civil rights laws, explained the further impact of that ruling on the University of California: "We have a much lower level of access for Latino and African-American students than we had back then, in terms of their getting admitted to our flagship campuses."

The benefits of affirmative action may not be limited to minority students, however. Jasmine Kyles, a student at the University of Texas, explained its advantages for all students in Voice of America: "Once we leave our classrooms we are going to step out into a world where everybody does not look like you, everyone does not think like you. So it is great. We get this feel of diversity inside the classroom, so when we go out and step out into this global economy we know what we are up against."

Unlike Kyles, however, supporters of Fisher believe affirmative action is actually unfair to all students, even minorities. Todd Gaziano, who directs legal studies at the Heritage Foundation, claimed in The Daily Helmsman that by accepting students who otherwise would not qualify for admission, colleges are accepting students who are not adequately prepared to excel and would end up receiving lower grades. Bridget Creel, senior counsel with the American Center for Law and Justice, reinforced this belief that race should not be a factor in college admissions in The Pendulum: "If you have the grades and the work ethic, that should be all that matters," she said.

Many Fisher supporters also believe that measures other than affirmative action can be taken to increase diversity. Affirmative action supporters assert, however, that none of these other measures are as effective. Robert Parrish, assistant law professor at Elon University, said in The Pendulum, "When you go to a race-neutral policy, you can in some ways manipulate student diversity in a way to maintain diversity to some extent, but in every way, it's been less effective than Affirmative Action."

The Supreme Court is weighing both sides' opinions on the matter. However, as The Pendulum noted, it is not likely to side entirely with either Fisher or the university in its decision. The justices are in fact considering a policy that would require higher education institutions to have a "critical mass" of minority students. However, as Parrish pointed out, "critical mass" can be a vague term. He predicted that "The court is going to either say diversity at the higher state level is not a compelling interest or it will nibble at the edges and limit what these programs can do and limit the role of race in admissions decisions."

Students and universities alike are keeping a close watch on the progress of the case. According to The Pendulum, the Supreme Court should make its final decision before June.

Compiled by Aneesha Jhingan


"Affirmative Action policies hang in balance of Supreme Court decision,", October 10, 2012, Katherine Blunt

"Supreme Court and colleges may clash over affirmative action,", October 11, 2012, Renee Schoof

"US Supreme Court Hears Racial Preference Case,", October 10, 2012, Chris Simkins

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