This week marks the final week that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will release their decisions from this session. There are a few major cases that America is waiting. These cases will decide major issues for our society including affirmative action in higher education, voting rights, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8 relating to gay marriage in California. The last two cases are known collectively as the same sex marriage cases.
SCOTUS blog suggests there will be three days of decisions this week. Monday, possibly Wednesday and Thursday. So they do not blow up the internet specifically twitter, I hope that each issue get its’ own day. Perhaps affirmative action on Monday, Voting rights on Wednesday and the same sex marriage cases on Thursday. The case that I am most anxiously awaiting is the Affirmative Action case, Fisher v. University of Texas. I am a beneficiary of Affirmative Action in higher education and I see the value that it provides going forward.
Like the petitioner in this case Abigail Fisher, I attended high school in the state of Texas. In Texas there is a top ten percent rule that allows all the students in the top ten percent of their senior class automatic admission into public universities including our flagship school University of Texas. I graduated high school well before Ms. Fisher but I know that by my sophomore year our counselors and teachers made it clear to us that if you wanted to get into University of Texas we needed to be in the top ten percent of our graduating class. Well Abigail Fisher was not in the top ten percent and when she did not get accepted into one of the few remaining seats she sued claiming race was why she did not get in. For the remaining seats UT uses race as A factor not THE deciding factor to determine admittance. More importantly the top ten percent rule was used as a race neutral way to ensure diversity at the top University. For example the top ten percent of a predominately black High School would presumably include black students. So it is a way to bring in top diverse students into the school. With majority of the class being filled with students at the top of their respective Texas high schools it seems to me the real reason that Abigail Fisher was not admitted into the UT was because did not fall into the top ten percent of her class!
Another frustration for me in any affirmative action case is the need to point to the student of color as the reason why you did not get into the University. There are so many people who are entering top Universities for reasons other than their academic merit. The University’s athletes are not held to the same stringent rules and requirements as other students. Why don’t you point to them? Also some schools are really big on admitting children of alumni. When I applied to Texas A&M there was a large portion of their application, for their legacy program. After complaints by minority groups, the school officially ended the legacy program but I would be surprised if it was not still occurring in some degree off the record. In addition to alumni, you also have the children of large donors. I cannot imagine a University saying no to the child of a large donor simply because they do not meet the academic requirements. So again why are people not up in arms based on these students “taking their spot” in the incoming freshmen class?
Sometimes we lose site on why a diverse classroom is essential. I think of a class discussion about Affirmative Action for example. What if every student in the classroom came from a Protestant home, upper middle class, two parents and white. Without a doubt our backgrounds shape our opinions and rightfully so. So if everyone is from the same background how interesting would that discussion be? What could we learn from each other? Now if you mix in a variety of people from different races, gay and lesbian parents, single mom or single dad, different social economic backgrounds, religions, regions of the country and genders then the opinions would be just as diverse as they are! This is how we learn. When I look back at my collegiate experience, learning from my classmates who came from different backgrounds was a huge part of that. More importantly the world is diverse and our workplace is becoming more and more diverse. It is better to have exposure to that in college rather than getting into the workplace and being completely ignorant about people from other backgrounds.
Many people believe affirmative action is dead in the water at this point because the Supreme Court has a conservative majority. In addition, the fact that they even took the case leads some to believe that they must have something to say on the issue. So we have nine justices, four liberal and five conservative. Justice Kagan recused herself from this case so there are only three liberal justices and five conservatives making the decision. If it is a four to four decision, meaning a conservative stepped over to the liberal side, then it is not strong precedent and will not mark much change. If all five conservatives agree with Fisher then we will likely see the end of Affirmative Action in higher education as we know it. I honestly hope they do not even get to the Affirmative Action issue at all. University of Texas has stated that even if Abigail Fisher was a person of color based on her scores she would not have gotten in. She has since graduated from LSU and has a job in Austin. Also as I said before, I believe the main reason Abigail Fisher did not get into UT is because she was not in the top ten percent. That is life, 90% of Texas high school students found themselves in the same predicament but they did not sue. I would also LOVE if the opinion ended with Ms. Fisher, life isn’t always fair and we don’t always get what we want but we make the best of it and realize everything happens for a reason.