Debate over Affirmative Action in College Admissions Continues

By Hu, Helen | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, October 25, 2012 | Go to article overview

Debate over Affirmative Action in College Admissions Continues


Hu, Helen, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Anti-affirmative action groups have been "brilliant" in framing the issues involved in Fisher v. University of Texas, according to a lawyer experienced in the field of college admissions.

The forces on the other side, "unfortunately, have not been nearly as effective," says Jay Rosner, executive director of the Princeton Review Foundation.

In the Fisher case, a White student was denied admission to UT-Austin. Abigail Fisher couldn't get in under the university's policy of admitting the top 10 percent of high-schoolers in Texas. She became part of the remaining pool of applicants, who were screened for considerations including race, and was rejected.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Fisher contends her rejection violated the Equal Rights Protection of the 14th Amendment. District and appellate courts ruled in favor of the university. The U.S. Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments in the intensely-watched case in mid-October.

Rosner says no one paid attention to critics of affirmative action until they used Ward Connerly, a Black businessman, as the face of their movement, which he says instantly garnered attention and funding. It was a brilliant move, he says.

Rosner also cited the movement's ability to define the word "preferences."

"Underrepresented students get these little advantages, if you will, these very tiny breaks in admissions, and that's what 'preferences' means," he told attendees at a National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) conference in Denver.

Rosner, who served as an expert witness in the landmark Grutter v. Bollinger affirmative-action case, says, "When I hear, 'Oh well, this is particular to Texas, and it's the [Top] Ten Percent Plan, and the Supreme Court is going to do this finely-tuned, finessed opinion on how affirmative action works here'--they may, they may not."

Noting that the ruling could have implications that reach far beyond UT, he says,

"All admissions officers could be affected," adding he was presenting a worst-case scenario.

Rosner also says that a look at who filed amicus briefs in the Fisher case is very telling.

More than 70 briefs siding with affirmative action were filed by the "broadest, deepest collection of entities and individuals you can imagine," of including universities, businesses and labor groups, Rosner says.

On the other hand, 17 briefs were filed against affirmative action, mostly by conservative think tanks, says Rosner. Amicus briefs are filed by groups or people who are not party to a case but have been allowed to weigh in on it. …

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