Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

The Implications of the Supreme Court Verdict in Fisher V. University of Texas: What Will It Mean for Latinos and Minorities?

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

The Implications of the Supreme Court Verdict in Fisher V. University of Texas: What Will It Mean for Latinos and Minorities?

Article excerpt

In a landmark decision in 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the University lot Michigan Law School could include race as a [actor to diversify its student body. That GruUer v. Bollinger ruling enabled colleges to included race-based admission criteria in determining its class and upheld the rights of students in ''undcrrepresented minority groups." The decision also prohibited the use of quota systems, stipulating that race could only constitute one factor among many criteria in admitting students. The ruling, in effect, encouraged more Latinos and African-Americans to apply to law school, become attorneys and make the entire U.S. legal system more representative of the populace.

But that 2003 ruling is currently being challenged and re-evaluated. The Supreme Court is set to decide on a new case, Fisber v. the University of Texas, that questions the legality of using race as a factor in admissions policy, In August 2012, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund issued an amicus curia brief, or friend of the court, urging the court to preserve diversity in college admissions to ensure that African - American and Latino students continue to have equal opportunity regarding college admissions.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund noted that the Supreme Court has a history of ruling in favor of considering race as a factor in admitting students to colleges. For example, in 1978 in die case Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, Justice Powell, in his majority verdict, stated that all students in the country benefit from attending diverse schools. He said that "nodiing less than the nation's future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure to the ideas and mores of students as diverse as uns Nation of many people."

The 2003 verdict "recognized that diversity hi education was bolli special and critical," said Gerald Torres, a professor of law at the University of Texas (UT) -Austin Law School. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (since retired) in her majority verdict said "pathways to leadership had to be open to all," and that phrase resonated in her writing. Moreover, she said there needed to be a "critical mass" of minority students so fliey didn't feel alienated. Torres noted that this viewpoint of critical mass is often misunderstood hut produces the maximum educational benefit for all students, not just minorities. Whites benefit from participating in integrated classes too.

In the current case, Abigail Fisher objects to the University of Texas' policy that includes race in its admissions criteria. Acceptance by the University of Texas is based on two factors or "blended" admissions criteria. One standard of entrance admits any student enrolled in a Texas public or private high school that ranks its students who finish in the top 10 percent of the class based on grade point average. It's referred to as the "Top Ten Percent Plan." When Fisher filed her suit, 81 percent of the incoming University of Texas students gained entrance through this plan (in 201 1 it was capped at 75 percent).

The second criterion for admissions was a more holistic approach that includes grades, SAT Lest scores, an essay, leadership, and socioeconomic status, including race. Using race was, of course, permitted by the 2003 Supreme Court verdict. Each applicant receives a score based on an academic index including GPA and SAT scores, combined with another score for Personal Achievement, which includes a host of criteria including potential, leadership, community service, and socioeconomic status and race. The NAACP legal Fund stated that "each applicant is considered as a whole person, and race is considered in conjunction with all odier factors, not in isolation."

Plaintiff Fisher and her attorneys argue that the admissions policy of UT-Austin is discriminatory and treats her unfairly, African-Americans and Latinos are given preference based on race rather than having their acceptance based primarily on their grades and SAT scores. …

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