It may be time to say farewell to affirmative action in higher education admissions and to the aspirations that went with it.
In October, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case challenging the sliver of consideration the university gives to race and ethnicity when deciding whom to admit. It is already being billed as “the case that killed affirmative action.”
That may prove true, as the make-up of the Supreme Court has changed considerably since the last time it looked at this heated issue in 2003. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, now retired, wrote the majority 5-4 ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger, upholding the University of Michigan Law School’s policy of considering race in conjunction with other factors for admissions.
O’Connor famously opined that “25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”
She was 16 years off in that prediction. The court may simply forbid race as a consideration for both state universities and private ones that accept federal funds.
Texas automatically accepts the top 10 percent of each of its high schools’ graduating classes. Given the state’s many high schools that are de facto segregated by race, this guarantees a certain measure of diversity. Applicants not in the top 10 percent are selected based on other factors, one of which is race (but only in conjunction with other factors, following Grutter).
Abigail Fisher didn’t make the 10 percent cut. Nor was she admitted based on other criteria. She sued, arguing she was denied admission because of her race.
By pursuing her case, Fisher and her lawyers are in effect alleging that she was more deserving than at least one non-white student admitted to the university. Indeed, the subtext of the backlash against affirmative action and “diversity” is that the white student is always more deserving.
But what do we mean by “deserving”?
Colleges often weigh race-neutral factors such as socio-economic status, whether a student is the first in their family to attend college, or whether the family moved often during the student’s formative years. Low-income white students from rural areas often benefit equally from such considerations.