Court hears case on affirmative action
The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to make a decision that could change the face of college admissions.
The court heard oral arguments for the case Fisher v. University of Texas-Austin last week.
The potential landmark case could strike down a former ruling upholding race-based affirmative action in admissions practices.
Abigail Fisher, who is white, is suing UT-Austin for discriminating against her on the basis of race when she was denied admission to the university in 2008.
UNC also uses race as a consideration in its admissions process.
On Aug. 9, UNC filed an amicus — or “friend of the court” — brief brief—final.pdf in the case, asserting the University’s conviction that considering race in admissions is essential for diversity and academic enrichment on campus.
“We were trying to let the court know that our University, along with other universities, finds that diversity racially is important for learning,” said John Charles Boger, dean of the UNC School of Law and one of the authors of the brief.
Stephen Farmer, vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions at UNC, said many people like to reduce admissions down to a formula, but it is nearly impossible to fairly evaluate all types of students that way.
At UNC, he said there are no quotas or targets for achieving racial diversity.
“We consider race legally and sparingly and in context of everything else we know about a student,” he said.
Farmer said he believes a broad ruling by the court could hurt the University’s ability to fairly evaluate its applicants.
Aaron Taylor, a professor at St. Louis University School of Law, is an advocate for race-based affirmative action.
“We are still dealing with racial gaps and inequities in this country that are the legacy of past injustice and inequality,” he said in an email. “Racial wealth gaps, which contribute in great measure to educational achievement gaps, reflect the ugly parts of our history.”
But Richard Kahlenberg, senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a left-leaning think tank, argues in a report that affirmative action practices based on socio-economic status — rather than race — are more effective in promoting diversity on campuses.
He said that today, a student of low socio-economic status faces obstacles seven times as high as a black student.
“To my mind, socio-economic status should be a consideration because you want a system that is meritocratic in light of obstacles a student has overcome,” he said.
Boger said socio-economic affirmative action isn’t always a sufficient substitute for race-based affirmative action.
“A sad truth about socio-economic affirmative action is that it just doesn’t overlay with race,” he said.
Taylor said socio-economic affirmative action tends to benefit low-income white students.
Most universities do not use socio-economic affirmative action. Kahlenberg attributed this to the fact that socio-economic diversity is not as visible to the eye as racial diversity.
Kahlenberg predicts that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Fisher, universities will switch in large numbers to socio-economic affirmative action.
But in the meantime, he said he doesn’t think universities will change their policies.
“As long as universities can continue to just have wealthy kids of all colors, that’s what they will do,” he said.
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