After her rejection from the University of Texas at Austin, Abigail Fisher brought a suit against the university claiming that the decision was based on the color of her skin. Now in front of the Supreme Court, the case of Abigail Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin is making colleges and universities alike discuss and question their views on Affirmative Action.
Affirmative Action policies are those that take into consideration things such as race, religion, gender, color, sexual orientation and national origin when evaluating an applicant. They are usually put into place in order to benefit an underrepresented group, but they do not evaluate things such as socioeconomic status or class.
Due to UT Austinâ€™s automatic admission of the top 10 percent of all Texan graduating high school students, more minority-majority students were admitted to the university, increasing its racial diversity. Fisher, who fell below the 10-percent threshold, had her application processed through standard admissions and was denied. Now, she claims that her denial was due to race and the universityâ€™s use of AA policies. Since the change of justices, the constitutionality of these admissions policies is up for debate.
â€œThe Supreme Court has become more suspicious of these arguments [for Affirmative Action] over the years,â€ said David Crockett, associate professor of political science. â€œSandra Day Oâ€™Connor is gone and has been replaced by a justice who doesnâ€™t seem to be as sympathetic with that view for Affirmative Action. There is a real possibility in this case that the decision from 2005 [ruling in favor of AA] will be overturned.â€
Along with the Supreme Courtâ€™s growing suspicion of AA, many non-admissions officials are also growing skeptical of policies that only affirm for the admittance of a certain race, rather than looking into other means of diversity. Along with its non-comprehensive approach, AA is often criticized for its lack of bright line.
â€œIt wouldnâ€™t surprise me if the court decides in [Fisherâ€™s] favor. Sandra Day Oâ€™Connor [in 2005] wrote the majority opinion with the liberal justices. Then switching her with Alito could indicate that Affirmative Action is on very shaky grounds,â€ Crockett said. â€œI think one of the things that the justices ask is, â€˜At what point do we say we have done a sufficient amount?â€™â€
According to Christopher Ellertson, associate vice president for enrollment and student retention, Trinity does not practice AA due to its already diverse pool of applicants. However, in other areas of the nation where this isnâ€™t the case, AA policies and the like are used to increase diversity, including in the Ivy Leagues.
â€œI think that there is a point to be made about the educational value of a diverse community, and to me that goes beyond race and ethnicity,â€ Ellertson said. â€œIt speaks to socioeconomic background, academic areas of interest, towns and perspectives. I think that professors can teach differently in a classroom when they are working with a more diverse population. The types of discussions that can be fostered in a classroomâ€”the various perspectives that students bring â€” I think add value.â€
Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin is currently in front of the Supreme Court and, depending on the ruling, could overturn the Grutter v. Bollinger case from 2003, which allowed AA to play a limited role in college admissions. The court heard the oral arguments on Oct. 10, and the justices should make a decision soon.