The U.S. Supreme Court heard an hour and 20 minutes of oral arguments last week pertaining to a case that could impact racial preferences and affirmative action programs in higher education. The case stems from a white applicant who filed a lawsuit against the University of Texas claiming she did not gain admission as result of the school’s racial preferences in their admissions process (Fisher v. Univ. of Texas). According to Politico:
It appeared clear from the justices’ often pointed questions during an extended hour and 20 minutes of oral arguments that the survival of the Texas program and others like it depends on the vote of Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Three of the court’s four most conservative justices, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito, were clearly hostile to the Texas plan. Justice Clarence Thomas did not speak from the bench Wednesday, as is his custom, but he’s previously indicated opposition to such programs.
The court’s liberal wing was more receptive to the University of Texas program and to the idea of deferring to the judgment of educators. However, the court’s liberals are down one for the Texas case: Justice Elena Kagan recused herself because as solicitor general she approved a brief backing the university.
If the five conservative justices vote together, they could nix the Texas program and effectively restructure — or even end — affirmative action in higher education. If not, the case is unlikely to set any precedent, though the court could still kill the Texas system. A tie, 4-4, vote would let stand a lower court ruling that left the program in place.
Business Insider has interviewed a Dartmouth admissions officer recently who gave some interesting insight on not only how long an college admissions officer spends time on reading an application but also what kind of applicant, based on race and economic background, is more likely to get shafted:
Here’s what we learned:
1) It sucks to be a middle class white applicant, with no affirmative action and intense competition from elite whites.
2) East Asians can be disadvantaged too, as they are perceived as one-dimensional studiers. Our source blames culturally insensitivity at the high school and college level.
3) Athletes bring down the quality of the class—to a degree that really annoyed our source. So do legacies, but not as much.
4) Early admission is less competitive, despite what the College claims.
5) Most college essays are too boring. Our source says students should take bigger risks.
As far as the issue of race is concerned, Business Insider learned from their source that:
“We’re taught to think about diversity openly and look at the needs of the school and also admit kids on that basis. No matter who the person is you’re told to measure academics contextually. If it’s an African American you know the median SAT score for that demographic and you read the application in that context. You’re supposed to do it holistically so race is not the only guiding factor, but can it be significant.”
“As for white kids, there are a lot in the possible category. Most white applicants will be from wealthy suburbs of the Mid-Atlantic or New England, pretty well-off, from strong schools, so even if the kid is a 7 academically that might not mean much in their personal context.”
“You want to find a kid who stands out given what they’ve been given. If you see a black student with extremely high SAT scores, you’re thinking already this kid is doing pretty well relative to his peer group. i can understand why people have a problem with this process. The demographic that gets squeezed is the white middle class, but then you don’t see as many applications from that demographic, period.”
“There weren’t many people I knew at Dartmouth who were white middle class. A lot of student come from the top quartile of the income spectrum, which makes it an elite institution not just in academic quality but also in pedigree.”
East Asians also find that they will have a tougher time:
“There was one girl who sued Princeton claiming she was discriminated against for being Asian, so you do find that some Asians can be disadvantaged in the process, and not only because admissions committees think about Asians in a specific way, but because recommenders do too. When reading recommendations you see these words—”diligent,” “hardworking”—because people tend to see East Asians in a certain way. You rarely see “creative” or “strong intellectual bent,” and they are less likely to be seen as “freethinking.” Same with issues of character. A lot of secondary teachers find it difficult to connect culturally with Asian Americans and the type of things they end up doing, so they won’t see as much talk about character. But at Dartmouth there was not much discrimination against Asian Americans, since they were considered a historical minority at the school.”
The last time the Supreme Court considered an affirmative action case (Grutter v.Bollinger) was in 2003, when it ruled that racial quotas could not be used when looking at a student’s application, but that a student’s race could be considered as part of the “holistic” process when reviewing an application.
Fisher’s lawyers argue that the University of Texas placed race above any other factor and went beyond the “holistic” approach, while attorneys for U of T argue that the college’s admissions process does not violate the parameters set in Grutter v. Bollinger.