LOS ANGELES--The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a potentially landmark case that could end the use of race-based affirmative action in higher education.
The court ruled nine years ago that although quota systems in admissions processes at colleges and universities were unconstitutional, race can be used as a positive factor, just not a decisive factor.
Court Previously Affirmed Campus Diversity
The high court reasoned that considering race as a factor – or race consciousness – in the admissions process is important because a diverse student body improves the education of all students.
Abigail Noel Fisher, along with Rachel Multer Michalewicz, both white, claim they were unconstitutionally denied admission as undergraduates to the University of Texas, Austin (UT-Austin), in 2008, as a result of its affirmative-action policy.
With this new case, the court’s previous ruling that race can be considered as part of the admissions process, is in danger of being overturned.
The Asian American Center for Advancing Justice — Asian American Institute, Asian American Justice Center, Asian Law Caucus and Asian Pacific American Legal Center will be filing an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to uphold race-conscious admissions.
We need affirmative action policies because not everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed. Universities should be allowed to consider the whole person, including one’s experiences as a racial minority, so the opportunities that come from higher education are available to all qualified students.
Asian Americans may appear to be well represented at some of the most selective universities, but among the various Asian ethnic groups, many, such as Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders, continue to be vastly underrepresented. A university should be allowed to consider race as one of many factors in order to promote equal opportunity and educational diversity in its classrooms and on its campus.
Additionally, Asian Americans continue to be underrepresented in corporate sector managerial positions and public contracting. Affirmative-action programs provide Asian Americans with invaluable employment and business opportunities that otherwise would not be available.
Reliance on GPA, SAT Scores Discriminatory
Furthermore, affirmative action is needed to offset the racial discrimination captured by the use of admissions criteria, such as grade point average (GPA) and SAT scores.
Without considering race, the use of GPAs and SAT scores in admissions is unfairly biased against minority students. Over-reliance on GPA and SAT scores results in the filtering out of qualified minority applicants whose contributions to the learning environment enhances the competitiveness of all students in the increasingly global and multicultural workforce.
GPAs are not colorblind measures of merit because many students of color, particularly low-income blacks, Latinos and certain Asian and Pacific Islander subgroups continue to attend separate and unequal schools with higher concentrations of poverty, fewer qualified teachers, higher teacher turnover, fewer honors and advanced-placement (AP) courses, greater overcrowding and fewer overall resources — factors that all affect a student’s grades.
Many undergraduate schools, including the University of California and UT-Austin, exacerbate the differences by inflating GPAs or assigning additional weight to an applicant for the completion of AP courses. Even where AP courses are offered, many minority students are unable to take them because they are discriminatorily assigned into lower educational tracks.
Studies have also documented biases in standardized tests, such as the SAT, which disproportionately impact students of color.
Moreover, testing bias is the only logical explanation for the documented and significant racial test score gaps that persist even between white and minority students with identical academic numerical credentials. Students of color should not have their academic achievements diminished based on a four-hour test that cannot fully capture a student’s potential.
Where admissions processes rely too heavily on criteria like GPAs and SAT scores, the reality of how racial discrimination shapes those criteria must be taken into account. Without considering race and culture, the use of such criteria is unfairly biased in favor of white students.
For these and other reasons, the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice will continue to advocate for the protection of affirmative action and diversity programs.
Carolyn Hsu is a voting-rights fellow and Winifred Kao is a staff attorney on employment and workers’ rights, both at the Asian Law Caucus, a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice.