The Supreme Court will again consider a Texas student’s challenge to the use of race in college admissions decisions, justices announced Monday.
The case — Fisher v. University of Texas — centres around Abigail Fisher, a white woman in her mid-20s, who in 2008 sued the University of Texas at Austin after she was denied admission to the state’s flagship public university.
In Texas, public high school students in the top 10% of their class are automatically offered admissions to UT Austin, although high-performing students can still gain admission through the regular application process, which considers factors such as race and ethnicity.
Fisher narrowly missed the 10% cutoff, coming in 82nd in her 674-person class at Stephen F. Austin High School with a 3.59 GPA. She claims she was discriminated against because of her race, and that UT Austin accepted non-white students with worse grades and fewer extracurricular activities.
In her lawsuit, Fisher and her lawyers argued that the “Top Ten” program naturally assures enough student diversity that affirmative action is not needed, Scott Jaschik points out at Inside Higher Ed.
The Supreme Court first heard Fisher’s case in 2013, deciding 7-1 to send it back to a lower court to rehear the case with stricter scrutiny. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed Fisher’s case last year.
Justice Elena Kagan, who likely worked the case as the US government’s Solicitor General, has recused herself from hearing Fisher, as she did when the court last considered it.
It’s clear that the use of race in admissions decisions is a contentious issue in higher education. According to UT Austin, “the school’s affirmative action program was needed to build a student body diverse enough to include minority students with a broad range of backgrounds and for the campus to have a ‘critical mass’ of minority students in most classrooms,” The New York Times reported in 2012.
“Admissions officers at colleges and universities almost universally endorse the idea that students from diverse backgrounds learn from each other, overcome stereotypes, and in so doing prepare themselves for leadership positions in society,” according to The Times. “Many critics of affirmative action say that there is at best a weak correlation between race and having a range of views presented in the classroom.”
Erin Fuchs contributed to this report.
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