Affirmative Action: What If the Supreme Court Ends It?

Will the Supreme Court’s verdict on Fisher v. University of Texas undo the last 10 years of diversity progress in higher education?

Supreme Court to Hear Abigail Fisher v. University of TexasCorporations struggling to develop a qualified pipeline of Black and Latino talent soon may face additional challenges in reaching their diversity and recruitment goals. It all depends on how the Supreme Court rules in the Fisher v. University of Texas case.

The lawsuit before the court on Wednesday could result in the reversal of the college’s affirmative-action admissions policies—and potentially deem all instances of race-based criterion in higher-education admissions “unconstitutional.” This would overturn the landmark Grutter v. Bollinger decision in 2003, which upheld the use of race as one of multiple factors when determining acceptance.

If Fisher Wins & Affirmative Action Ends …

Educational and civic leaders are “very concerned that a [negative] decision will impact any and all incoming students from high school or transfers,” said Ben Reese, president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE). “We are looking for an admissions system that is inclusive of all the qualities that students bring, including race, not stunting the growth of community colleges and four-year schools and building an appropriate workforce.”

Collateral consequences of a Fisher win would be a narrowing of Black and Latino admissions to four-year colleges only, which would limit community-college transfers and increase pressure on smaller, two-year schools that already are strained and turning students away because of limited budgets, according to executives representing nine higher education associations.

These include: The American Association for Affirmative Action, American Council on Education, American Indian Higher Education Consortium, Association of American Medical Colleges, College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education and NADOHE.

“Too much is at stake. We need to build truly inclusive learning environments and can’t afford to go backward at this point,” they said.

The Case

Abigail Fisher, a white high-school student, filed the lawsuit in 2008 after she was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin, which she claims was unequal treatment because of reverse discrimination and, therefore, a violation of the14th Amendment. Project on Fair Representation, a legal-defense foundation, is representing Fisher. Watch this organization’s video on the case below.

Learn more about the case and affirmative action by watching the video above, then read these articles:

Is Affirmative Action Over?

Affirmative Action Foe Ward Connerly Comments at the DiversityInc Conference

Why We Still Need Affirmative Action

Talent Development Creates Ability for INROADS Students to Succeed

Corporate Diversity: Outreach With Rutgers Future Scholars Enhances Talent Pipelines

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  • One would like to think we’ve reached the point in society where Affirmative Action is no longer needed, but sadly, that is not the case.

    Children and young adults coming from traditionally underprivileged neighborhoods often do not have the benefit of a rigorous elementary and high school education before they reach college. However, this does not mean they are no less qualified to attend college. Without programs that allow them to be accepted into college despite the challenges faced prior to college, many intelligent people of color may never have the benefit of higher education, further perpetuating the vicious circle of poverty.

    In addition, I strongly reject the idea and concept of “reverse discrimination”. The concept of reverse discrimination is meant to convey discrimination against White people, but by claiming that reverse discrimination is wrong implies that discrimination against people of color is right. When people of color were denied access to jobs and education simply on the basis of their color, affirmative action programs were needed to right a previous wrong. If we were at a place where there was no longer discrimination against people of color, or of anyone, then I would say that we would not need special programs to correct these injustices, but we haven’t reached that point. It is quite evident that our society is still very racist, as evidenced by the way the GOP and others have treated and continue to treat our first African-American President.

    “Until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes”, (Haile Selassie), then we will continue to need affirmative action.

  • If it is ended, I think not only will people of color be negatively effected but far more people with disabilities will be left on the dole, burdening taxpayers, instead of opening doors to help make more of USA more able and productive.

    There has been more negative press about the instances of misapplication of affirmative action spread to the general populace, giving it a bad name, especially in some circles, than there has been about the positive opportunities and successes, and showing the overall taxpayer savings it has created.

    Perhaps more public information and professional training in the proper application and use, including simple, clear information on the resulting benefits to all is past due?

  • Loretta Miller

    From my perspective, I cannot agree that anyone should, for any reason, be advantaged or disadvantaged because of race. I have read many things about this over the years and have never seen anything that would convince me otherwise. Even the definition of race is so murky these days, it’s hard to tell what it really means. I had an acquaintence recently brag that their child will receive special consideration for college because or their “hispanic” last name. This is just wrong. Sins of the past (and there are many) should not result in discrimination against a student today because they are not seen as valuable to the mix because they are white and middle class. Recall a basis for the dream act -don’t hurt an innocent child because they were brought to the US illegally by a parent. In turn, don’t tell a white student that it’s OK for him or her to be hurt because in the past fools discriminated against non-whites.

    • Luke Visconti

      Thank you for a kindly worded comment. I don’t completely disagree with you—I think we’d be well served as a country to move to a means-based affirmative action. There’s certainly plenty of discrimination left in our society, but I feel poverty creates more roadblocks for children than any other factor. There will certainly be more Black and Latino children in a means-based program, but there will also be poor white and Asian children as well. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • Hobson Goulart

    It is interesting how Miss Fisher felt entlited to be admitted to the University of Texas at Austin because her family members went there, her friends went there, and she wanted to go there. Why did she feel that she must be accepted because, in addition to her good grades, she wanted to keep with the “tradition” of her family and friends. For minorities we have no tradition, and often because our parents never finished elementary school and worked their butts off to put us through high school so that we can get a shot at entering college and compete with the likes of Miss Fisher. Fundamentally this seems to be a case of a white person who had never been told “no, sorry” when that is the daily reality of youth of color. “No sorry, your English is not enough”, “No sorry, your grades are not good enough”, ” No sorry, but you don’t look like you fit in this school”. Affirmative action is needed fundamentally because the field is not level for our young people to attend college. Period. Miss Fisher can go to so many other schools that would be receiving her with open arms. Give me a break!

  • On a personal level, I completely understand Ms. Fisher’s perspective. However, given the ongoing challenges faced by people of color and other underrepresented groups, I feel affirmative action must continue to be part of the mandates required by colleges and universities.

    Ms. Fisher’s theory that her family’s history with UT entitles her to attend underlies the issue of ‘white privilege’ that continues to support inequitable treatment of people of color and other underrepresented groups. What about the white students that may have had lower grades or less extracurricular participation? I’m certain there were a number of white students fitting this profile that were also accepted into UT; was there ‘reverse discrimination’ in these intances?

    Blacks at UT currently comprise 4% of the student population, while Whites are 58.5% of the total population. This hardly appears to be supportive of any discriminatory practices. Yet Ms. Fisher and her attorneys have decided she was rejected based on race(?). I can only hope the Supreme Court examines the facts of this case and makes the right decision.

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