Column: Affirmative action still necessary to building inclusive, diverse university campuses

By Kristina Bui

Arizona Daily Wildcat, U. Arizona via UWIRE

The Supreme Court will soon hear a case that could shake up the college admissions process.

Theoretically, affirmative action is no longer necessary. Perhaps it was 30 or 40 years ago, but society has evolved beyond discrimination, and now affirmative action only serves to discriminate against applicants who have enough merit but not the right pigment — or so critics of affirmative action policies say.

Still, research shows that most minorities, primarily black and Hispanic students, lag behind their white peers in college enrollment, retention and graduation. Evidence also suggests that race-conscious admissions policies positively influence college graduation rates, enrollment in graduate and professional programs and job prospects.

The case, Fisher v. University of Texas, was filed in 2008 by Abigail Fisher, a white woman who wanted to go to U. Texas, Austin. After she was rejected, Fisher filed suit, saying that the university’s inclusion of race in its admissions process is unconstitutional.

Lower courts sided with U. Texas, citing the earlier decision of Grutter v. Bollinger. The court’s opinion in the Grutter case established that a “narrowly tailored use” of race as a factor in admissions supports a “compelling interest” in diversity.

Last week, the Obama administration filed an amicus brief in support of U. Texas, saying that the use of race in the admissions process furthers a “vital interest” of the government. The brief argues that having a “well-qualified and diverse pool of university and service-academy graduates of all backgrounds” is critical to the future labor force.

But Fisher’s lawsuit against U. Texas and debate in other states makes it clear that Grutter, and earlier cases like Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, did little to clear up confusion.

States have used ballot initiatives to remove race-based affirmative action in college admissions, such as California and Arizona.

Arizona’s Proposition 107, which passed in 2010, banned the consideration of race, ethnicity or gender by units of state government, including public universities.

Prior to Prop 107’s approval, Robert Shelton, U. Arizona’s president at the time, vowed to find new ways to recruit diverse students if the measure passed.

In response, the “Yes on 107” campaign issued a press release, challenging Shelton to “walk his own talk” and give his job to someone else. The campaign argued that, if Shelton was so interested in increasing diversity, he would seek it in all positions, unless he believed “discriminating quotas should only apply to other people, but not to him.”

But critics fail to realize two things. First, people who suspect they are victims of reverse discrimination probably outnumber people who are actually victims. Colleges, especially schools with higher standards, often reject applicants of all races for reasons that don’t have anything to do with race.

Second, affirmative action isn’t about reversing discrimination or its history. Minority students don’t get a free pass as reparations for discrimination leveled against their ancestors.

Rather, a university must reflect the multicultural society that it will send its students into. Affirmative action is about making sure that a diversity of voices — shaped by experience and identity — contributes to the learning environment.

There’s no denying that affirmative action can be risky, as demonstrated by Princeton University, which is under federal investigation for allegedly requiring Asian-Americans to have stronger test scores and grades than other applicants. It must be exercised with caution. But diversity remains a compelling interest, no matter what year it is.

Read more here: http://www.wildcat.arizona.edu/article/2012/09/affirmative-action-still-necessary-to-building-inclusive-diverse-university-campuses
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