The Supreme Court will hear Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin on Wednesday.
In August, Haverford and 36 other liberal arts colleges submitted a joint amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the consideration of race as a standard in admissions decisions.
The brief was one among many submitted by higher education groups, universities and the Obama Administration in support of affirmative action.
The case involves Abigail Fisher, a white student who was rejected to UT-Austin in 2008, filed a lawsuit claiming that the university’s consideration of race violated her constitutional and civil rights.
After being contacted by the president of Amherst College, President Joanne Creighton brought the matter to the attention of the senior staff at Haverford who strongly endorsed signing the brief.
The brief argues that race-aware admissions policies taken by liberal arts colleges in the 19th and 20th century attempted to foster diversity before such approaches were taken on a federal and state level.
“Private colleges were created as engines of social change…and the Court should consider the realities of selecting students in a society in which race still matters and the effects of discrimination and entrenched segregation still linger,” reads the brief, filed by Susan Strum and Shelley Klein of the Center for Institutional and Social Change at Columbia Law School, and Charles Sims of Proskauer Rose LLP.
The brief mentions that no African Americans graduated from Haverford until 1951, whereas other peer institutions began admitting black students much earlier. A black student graduated from Middlebury in 1823, with Amherst following in 1826 and Bowdoin in 1833.
Only one African American graduated from Amherst College from 1939 to 1947, even though under different leadership Amherst had, from 1915 to 1926, enrolled a number of African-American students.
The brief also criticizes the view that solely considering the socioeconomic status of applicants would lead to a sufficiently diverse student body. Such a policy would create “a much poorer cohort of black and Hispanic students” and cause “increased stereotyping” of minority students.
Thirteen organizations have filed briefs in support of Fisher, including the CATO Institute, a libertarian think-tank, and the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative think-tank founded by evangelical leader Pat Robertson.
“A public university’s mere assertion of a ‘diversity’ interest, no matter the university’s precise circumstances, trumps the individual applicant’s right to be regarded as an individual by her government, rather than as a specimen of a particular race or ethnicity,” the CATO Institute’s brief stated.
While many minority rights organizations have filed briefs in favor of UT, including three Asian American organizations, only one has defended Fisher.
“In the name of racial diversity,” the Asian American Legal Foundation and the Judicial Education Project stated, “racial preferences in college admissions programs in general, and at the University of Texas at Austin in particular, discriminate against Asian-American applicants by deeming them over-represented relative to their demographics in the population and thus less worthy of admission than applicants of under-represented races.”
UT has argued that race was a minor factor in Fisher’s rejection. Fisher’s GPA of 3.56 and SAT score of 1180 was not enough to receive acceptance in the competitive 2008 freshman class, the university said.
Image by Joe Ravi (CC-BY-SA 3.0)
Garry Jenkins ’92 on the impact of the case at Haverford
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