Affirmative action on trial


A landmark case be­fore the U.S. Supreme Court could de­ter­mine whether col­leges and uni­ver­sities can con­sider an ap­pli­cant’s race for ad­mis­sion. The de­ci­sion, ex­pected next spring, will help de­cide whether this mul­ti­cul­tural na­tion moves for­ward or back­ward on mat­ters of race.

A 22-year-old woman named Ab­i­gail Fisher be­lieves the Univer­sity of Texas de­nied her ap­pli­ca­tion for ad­mis­sion in 2008 be­cause she is white. Her at­tor­neys claim she had a bet­ter ac­a­demic record than some cho­sen mi­nor­ity stu­dents. Ms. Fisher ended up ob­tain­ing a de­gree from Lou­i­si­ana State Univer­sity.

A di­verse cam­pus im­proves the over­all ed­u­ca­tion of ev­ery­one. Col­leges and uni­ver­sities need to main­tain some flex­i­bil­ity in get­ting there.

Ap­pli­cants al­ways have been judged by nu­mer­ous con­sid­er­ations be­sides grades and test scores, in­clud­ing ath­letic prow­ess, ar­tis­tic skills, vol­un­teer ac­tiv­ity, re­la­tions to alumni, es­say-writ­ing, civic duty, and lead­er­ship.

More­over, any just and rea­son­able ad­mis­sions pro­cess must ac­count for dif­fer­ences. Some ap­pli­cants had to work to sup­port their fam­i­lies. Others didn’t. Some grew up in homes where they used com­put­ers and took trips. Others may have been home­less.

In the Grut­ter vs. Univer­sity of Mich­i­gan de­ci­sion of 2003, the Supreme Court out­lawed ra­cial quo­tas as a tool for ad­mis­sion but al­lowed race to re­main one of many le­git­i­mate con­sid­er­ations. Justices who wrote the 2003 ma­jor­ity opin­ion, nar­rowly passed by a 5-4 vote, said they thought the cur­rent sys­tem would last 25 years. Now, with a more con­ser­va­tive court, the abil­ity of uni­ver­sities to con­sider race is in jeop­ardy, along with Af­fir­ma­tive Ac­tion.

In a na­tion still scarred by ra­cial in­justice, that would amount to a gi­ant step back­ward.