In 2008, Abigail Fisher, a white honor roll student who had a 3.59 GPA and was in the top-12 percent of her graduating class, applied to the University of Texas at Austin.
UT, a school with currently a little more than 50 percent of their student body consisting of people of color, automatically accepts Texas students who graduate in the top-10 percent of their class.
Applicants like Fisher were then to compete against other students who didn’t place in the top 10 percent of their class “under a system in which UT expressly considered race in order to increase enrollment of Hispanic and African-American applicants.”
Fisher was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin, and filed a lawsuit against the university shortly after on the grounds it allegedly discriminated against her race in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The following year, District Court Judge Sam Sparks upheld UT’s policy as it met the standards of Grutter v. Bollinger, a 2003 Supreme Court case that upheld the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policy.
Fisher’s attorneys then filed petition for Supreme Court review in September 2011.
In a 7-1 vote, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case was to be sent back to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals for reconsideration because the lower courts “did not hold the university to the demanding burden of strict scrutiny.”
Justice Kennedy also said that schools must show “that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity.”
In a statement in response to the Fisher decision, IU President Michael A. McRobbie says IU “will analyze the decision carefully before taking any action.”
“While we are disappointed that the court did not rule in favor of the University of Texas at Austin, we are pleased that the previously established principle of limited race-conscious admissions standards remains intact,” McRobbie said.
“IU remains steadfastly committed to its longstanding goal of providing outstanding educational opportunities to students from historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.”
This Supreme Court decision has sparked much debate among Americans and has some universities wondering about the future of their admissions policies.
Beth Cate, an associate professor at the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs, said the court decision doesn’t require universities to make instant changes to their admission programs.
The court decision allows further lawsuits to challenge universities that consider race.
“Overall the Supreme Court’s decision will make it harder for schools to use race as a factor in admissions,” Cate said. “In the meantime, the Court’s prior opinions leave ample room for schools to try to boost minority enrollments through enhanced outreach and recruitment efforts, and nothing in its Fisher decision appears to disturb any of that.”
Kevin Brown, a professor at the IU Maurer School of Law, says he believes the decision is likely to have little impact on how affirmative action functions in college admissions.
“While the Supreme Court remanded the case, it reaffirmed its commitment to Grutter and to the use of race and ethnicity in the admissions process of selective higher education programs,” Brown said via email.
Mark Land, vice president of IU communications, said race is one of the factors IU considers when accepting students, but it does not use a scoring system when weighing applicants, as quoted in the Louisville Courier-Journal.
In his statement, McRobbie continued to say, “the perspectives and experiences a diverse student body brings to an IU education also represent a critical part of helping students be successful in the increasingly diverse and international 21st century.
“IU will continue to be as inclusive as possible in its admissions decisions within the bounds of the law.”
Like what you're reading? Support independent, award-winning college journalism on this site. Donate here.