Paul R. Lehman, Supreme Court looks at Affirmative Action in UT’s admission policy

October 14, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Posted in Affirmative Action, African American, Bigotry in America, blacks, college admission, desegregation, Disrespect, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, integregation, justice, minority, Oklahoma education, Prejudice, public education, Race in America, Texas, whites | 2 Comments
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The issue of Affirmative Action has come up again for the Supreme Court to decide its merits as applied by the University of Texas and its admission policy. The outcome of the case could impact the role ethnicity has in college admission. An article entitled “Supreme Court studies UT’s race admission policy,” by Mark Sherman (Associated Press), noted that “The court heard arguments in a challenge from a white Texan who contends she was discriminated against when the university did not offer her a spot in 2008.”The title of the article should be “Supreme Court studies UT’s admission policy that includes race.” No one is being admitted to a race at UT.

Abigail Fisher, a twenty-two-year-old student claims she was rejected because race was used against her. The problem relative to this issue is the fact that race is only one of the considerations used by the university to admit students. According to the university, if it is to have any decision in creating an atmosphere of diversity, then it has to have the power to use whatever criteria necessary to achieve that objective. Its admission’s program was deemed earlier by the Supreme Court to be effective in its objectives: “The University says the program is necessary to provide the kind of diverse educational experience the high court has previously endorsed.” So why a suit was filed based on race? The suggestion seems to be that race has more value than the other considerations.

The university notes that along with race, it considers “community service, work experience, extracurricular activities, awards and other factors. The bulk of its slots go to students who are admitted based on their high school class rank, without regard to race.” We are led to believe that Fisher felt her high grade point average should have been enough to get her admitted. The state of Texas realized some years ago that admission of GPA only would lead to charges of being unfair to students who for social and economic reasons could not compete with middle-class and above students. Texas discovered that relying only on grade point averages for admissions would create a problem of admitting students with little or no diversity or as in the case of the University of California at the Berkeley campus, the majority of students being Asian American.  The problem actually turned out to be one that was not so much concerned about grade point average as much as who got admitted.

The problem seems to be that some European American students believe in entitlements when it comes to getting what they want. From statehood until 1948 the only school of higher education African Americans in Oklahoma could attend was Langston University, at the time, an African American only institution. Even in 1948, George McLaurin, the first African American to attend the University of Oklahoma Graduate School, had to endure Jim Crow arrangements, separated and isolated from the class in the same room. America, it seems to some, belongs to European Americans and they should receive preference over any other ethnic American. Never mind the many years ethnic Americans, especially African Americans, were denied admission to colleges and universities.

The purpose of Affirmative Action was to try and close the gap between the number of European Americans and ethnic Americans who were qualified to attend academic as well as professional schools, but were denied. The only reason for African Americans not being considered for admission was their ethnicity, so in order to increase their numbers in schools, their ethnicity had to be considered. The problem with schools considering ethnicity as part of admission was a claim of discrimination of European Americans. Ironically, the courts agreed that in some cases, European American students were being discriminated. Many schools realized that they would face charges of discrimination if they continued their policies that gave value to a student’s ethnicity, so they, like the University of Texas, changed their admission program to make ethnicity (race) one of the elements included in admission.

For many people, Affirmative Action is a program that gives the ethnic Americans and women, an unfair advantage over European Americans. In light of the facts that many ethnic American students graduate from academically inferior schools compared to those of many European American students, what elements should be employed by colleges and universities to create diverse student bodies that would be fair to all? The element of ethnicity must be included if the challenge of diversity is to be addressed. Sherman noted that “Opponents of the [University of Texas] program say the university is practicing illegal discrimination by considering race at all, especially since the school achieves significant diversity through its race-blind admissions.”

The university needs the tools they believe are necessary to effectively perform their responsibilities in creating a diverse educational experience for their students. If the court takes away Affirmative Action, then nothing will prevent a campus from becoming predominantly European American or as the case might be, Asian American or Hispanic American? In essence, who would be the most qualified students? Who would decide what students to select, and what criteria would be used in making the selection? At each stage of the process, individuals could file a charge of discrimination based on ethnic bias if the court fails to recognize the reason for the creation of Affirmative Action in the first place.

Common sense tells us that if we are riding in a car and it has a flat, the car must be stopped, the flat tire removed and fixed or replaced before the car can continue it travel.  The point is that a problem cannot be addressed if the program is not interrupted. Change can only come with an interruption to the status quo occurs. For education in America to reflect ethnic diversity, change must be made; excluding ethnic American students from the experience is like the flat tire; Affirmation Action is the replaced or repaired tire. If we ask the question of what is in the best interest of the country regarding education for all, we must answer a diverse educational environment. After all, if our schools do not diversify, who cares?

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  1. Thank you for highlighting this important case. The mindset of the plaintiff in my opinion is no different from the mindset that sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott. African Americans routinely had to give up their seats on the bus to European Americans. In this modern version, when the plaintiff got on the bus all the seats were taken. However she believes she is deserving of a seat already occupied by a minority. It will be interesting to see how the court rules.

  2. This year’s entering class at UT is among the most diverse anywhere. Roughly half of the incoming students are white and the other half are minorities. The school is required by law to admit the top ten percent of every high school class regardless of race. But UT also has what it calls a holistic review, where race is separately considered along with other factors such as leadership and family income.


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