Affirmative action at universities in doubt as US Supreme Court hears arguments

10 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

5 Things To Read Today: Supreme Court Divided on Affirmative Action, Yahoo Won’t Spin Off Alibaba, And More.

Antonin Scalia, the U.S. A divided Supreme Court confronted whether policies at the University of Texas at Austin meet the standards for the use of racial preferences in school admissions.American conservatives have been engaged in a long war against the constitutionality of affirmative action at public universities and other institutions.Counting just eligible voters when drawing electoral maps would disenfranchise most of the nation’s Latino population, several Latino leaders are warning. Latino lawmakers and community leaders say that a Supreme Court case which raises the question of whether state electoral districts should be drawn according to total population, or based on just residents who are eligible to vote, threatens to imperil Latinos who are too young to vote or not naturalized citizens.

The university admits 75 percent of students through a plan that guarantees slots to Texans who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school classes, regardless of race. The rest are admitted in a process where race is one of many factors considered. “Let me ask you about the 10 percent plan itself, because it seems to me that that is so obviously driven by one thing only, and that thing is race. The suit is a nuisance suit, it’s poorly argued, it’s disingenuous, it’s been heard before and, to make everything even more bizarre, the plaintiff’s claim to injury is demonstrably untrue. The case is on its second trip to the high court, following a 2013 ruling that reaffirmed its 2003 position approving affirmative action in university admissions. Meanwhile, students who have benefited (or are perceived to have benefited from) such programs have reason to be outraged, after US supreme court justice Antonin Scalia essentially argued that they might not be equipped to profit from admittance to certain high-quality institutions.

This is a case that should have been laughed out of court years ago, but instead, this is the second time — second time! — it’s being presented in front of the Supreme Court. At stake is the claim made by Abigail Fisher, now 25, who hails from a wealthy suburb of Houston called Sugar Land, that she was deprived of her rightful admission at UT Austin because, in her view, some person of color who didn’t deserve it stole it from her.

As the 5th circuit court of appeals observed in its opinion upholding the UT affirmative action program, Fisher almost certainly would not have been admitted even if UT used strictly race-neutral admissions criteria. Abbott that only eligible voters could be regarded when designing electoral maps, it could lead to moves to manipulate who can be classified as an eligible voter, among other things. “Everyone deserves fair and equal representation regardless of voting status or age,” said Cristobal Alex, president of Latino Victory Project, which aims to raise the number of Latino elected officials. “A ruling in favor of Evenwel would deny us fair representation in government and leave approximately 55 percent of Latinos unrepresented and affect many other groups – eroding Latinos’, Asian-Americans’, and African-Americans’ political power.” “We should not create a second class of individuals who are subject to laws written by those who are not accountable or truly representative of the people,” he said. Bollinger, the court said that public colleges and universities could not use a point system to increase minority enrollment but could take race into account in vaguer ways to ensure academic diversity.

Throughout her now seven-year campaign to make the school pay for not letting her in, Fisher has never been able to produce any evidence that the school tossed her application to make room for a less qualified minority applicant. The argument that colleges should not even consider the racial diversity of its student body in order to give white applicants with poor qualifications a very slightly better chance doesn’t strike me as a very compelling one. The court heard arguments on Tuesday in the case, which originated in Texas, on the meaning of the principle of “one person, one vote,” which the court has said requires that political districts be roughly equal in population.

Chief Justice John Roberts touched on the issue in a 2013 argument, asking whether the court had to assume that affirmative action programs “definitely are beneficial to particular minority groups.” Scalia has a history of making direct comments, both from the bench and in his written opinions. Fisher’s GPA and SAT scores weren’t high enough, and she didn’t have enough external accomplishments to convince the school to give her a shot otherwise. As Pro Publica explained at the time: It’s true that the university, for whatever reason, offered provisional admission to some students with lower test scores and grades than Fisher. Alito’s questions implied that taking diversity into account when choosing the remaining pool of students did not provide any added value to the university.

With its blindness to all but the single dimension of class rank, the Top Ten Percent Plan came with significant costs to diversity and academic integrity, passing over large numbers of highly qualified minority and non-minority applicants. In a letter to supporters, Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, wrote: “Voting rights experts say that by not counting everyone – including children, unnaturalized immigrants and others who can’t vote – our political system inevitably will become even more skewed toward the political right, because urban areas will lose representation.” When some districts of roughly equal population have dramatically different numbers of eligible voters, shouldn’t Texas “at least give some consideration to this disparity that you have among voters?” Kennedy asked. Several states, including California and Michigan, forbid the practice, and public universities in those states have had a drop in minority admissions. I don’t want to get into that debate, but I do have a worry, which is: If you’re reading proof of a compelling need, or proof of a compelling need, will any holistic review ever survive? Nor did they acknowledge the 168 black and Latino students with grades as good as or better than Fisher’s who were also denied entry into the university that year.

As she said, Alito’s suggestion would make diversity in higher education “totally dependent upon having racially segregated neighborhoods, racially segregated schools, and it operates as a disincentive for a minority student to step out of that segregated community and attempt to get an integrated education.” I don’t think the solution to the problems with student body diversity can be to set up a system in which not only are minorities going to separate schools, they’re going to inferior schools. Is this going to be done in your view in 12 years?” “Your honor, I’m not here to give you a date, but what I would say is this: There are systematic problems that these problems — that these policies are attempting to address, including the test score gap between African-Americans and Hispanics. Existing racial inequities inevitably affect students’ grade point averages, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities and the other criteria that selective schools use to choose among applicants. Simply knowing what colleges are looking for itself gives applicants a significant edge, and this knowledge is not equally shared across the socioeconomic spectrum. In the high school class, it’s a really pernicious stereotype.” “It does seem to me, as Justice Alito’s question, and frankly some of the other questions have indicated, that the litigants, and frankly this Court, have been denied the advantage and the perspective that would be gained if there would be additional fact-finding under the instructions that Fisher sought to give.

This time, they’ve tweaked their argument a bit, trying to argue that diversity itself is an illegitimate goal for schools and, to add a bit of extra nastiness sauce to it, they’re claiming that diversity is bad for students of color. But the other 20 percent are determined in a holistic fashion, by looking at grades, extracurricular activities, test scores, writing samples, the usual stuff. Scalia and Alito were inevitable votes to vote against UT anyway; the vote in doubt is Kennedy, and his arguments didn’t give observers many clues about how he would vote. When you read about this case, it quickly becomes self-evident why the admissions committee didn’t think Fisher had some hidden potential that wasn’t reflected in her grades.

But when it comes to Fisher, they employ a different assumption, believing, against all evidence to the contrary, that she must be good enough to deserve a spot. There’s a word for casually assuming the worst about people of color while assuming the best, even in the face of contrary evidence, of white people.

But of course, the purpose of universities, especially land grant colleges like UT Austin, is not just about giving white people a good college experience. UT Austin found a way to balance its duty to provide education to improve lives for people, all kinds of people, with their duty to maintain a level of educational excellence.

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