Tomorrow another case goes before the Supreme Court of the United States about affirmative action in higher education. It’s been less than a decade since this issue was last taken up by the court in Grutter v. Bollinger where the SCOTUS held up affirmative action in the case of the University of Michigan Law School. It’s unusual that a court takes another case of the same sort so close to its last decision, so everyone in higher education is watching with baited breath.
The University of Texas at Austin already has what is colloquially called a “ten percent plan” in place, which admits students in the top of their class to the university. Ms. Fisher was not admitted to the institution under those circumstances, nor was she admitted as a legacy student. Both her father and sibling both attended UT. The institution has also noted that Ms. Fisher would not have been admitted had affirmative action not been in place. Several institutions and researchers have submitted friends of the court briefs in support of the University of Texas using affirmative action in their admissions process. Their reasoning is that until inequity in educational opportunities are addressed, it is unfair to strike down initiatives meant to redress those inequities.
With so many preferential admissions statuses in higher education it is a wonder that affirmative action continues to be the gripe of choice. Students are admitted to universities for a variety of reasons and “merit” is only one of them. Universities are looking for more than just a class of students who can pass exams. They are looking for well rounded people who can come together to create a campus community that reflects a variety of values. Thus, an excellent cellist, or athlete, or student who made their mark by creating an amazing business venture may be admitted preferentially. Furthermore, many institutions still utilize legacy admissions and have special lists for the children or large donors. Keep in mind that the donor lists are also kept for competitive graduate school admissions. People who can afford it are able to ensure that their child has the best education money can buy regardless of “merit.” And, yet, none of these have recently been challenged all the way to the SCOTUS.
It is easy to pinpoint the student of color you think has taken “your” space on campus, but no student is guaranteed admission to a university, and it is quite presumptuous to think that you as an applicant are owed something. I’m sure Ms. Fisher, who has gone on to Louisiana State University, has received an excellent education. The University of Texas was not meant to be.
This case reminds us what is at stake in our state and federal elections. The next president of the United States may have the opportunity to appoint 3 supreme court justices. Many state legislatures are enacting legislation that would limit the time a student has to earn their degree if they are receiving financial aid even though research shows that often students who are low-income struggle because of finances or life events such as having children.
What happens in the Fisher vs. UTexas will shape higher education, and who has access to it for generations to come. Today is the last day to register to vote in several states and the District of Columbia. Are you vote ready?