Fisher v. University of Texas is a case currently before the Supreme Court. The decision is still pending but expected soon. A ruling in favor of Abigail Fisher could end affirmative action policies in admissions at public universities, with potential implications for admission at private universities as well. This debate imagines that the Court rules in favor of Fisher, with the Opposed arguing against the decision, and the Pro arguing in support of the decision.
As John Latting, Emory College’s dean of admission, writes in his letter to prospective students, “Emory seeks an outstanding first-year class … objective information … [is] important. But so are the personal attributes of the students who come here …” Like other highly selective institutions, Emory not only wants the best possible students, but also the best possible class. This requires careful consideration of applicants as whole individuals with diverse perspectives and backgrounds. Race is an important part of everyone’s identity.
The decision in Fisher v. University of Texas requires institutions of higher education like Emory to disregard individualized considerations of race in admission. This poor decision jeopardizes the dynamism of Emory’s intellectual and social community and the quality of its education.
Affirmative action remains necessary because of persistent racial inequalities and discrimination. From elementary school on, education quality for the majority of students of color remains starkly unequal and separate. Moreover, studies like those through UCLA’s Civil Rights Project have identified a trend of racial resegregation in schools. Segregated schools with majority black or Latino students are linked to problems like high dropout rates and have fewer resources. As education is a key avenue to improving opportunities and intergenerational socioeconomic mobility, such inequality exerts a vicious impact during and beyond an individual’s lifetime. This impact manifests itself in documented bias against these students in college admission criteria like standardized test scores, as under-resourced schools do not prepare students well for standardized tests.
Higher education presents a unique opportunity to help remedy these inequalities. Affirmative action benefits the disadvantaged groups it targets. Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger, researcher and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, respectively, find that attending selective institutions increases earnings for minorities and students whose parents have relatively little education. These students tend to perform better if they enroll in more selective institutions. Meanwhile, leading empirical scholars condemned studies supporting the argument that affirmative action beneficiaries are “mismatched” for and underperform at these schools as insufficient to “constitute credible evidence that affirmative action practices are harmful to minorities.” On-campus resources and outreach can provide extra support for minority and first-generation college students to help in isolated cases of mismatch.
Research consistently finds that students of all racial backgrounds become better critical thinkers, more creative problem solvers and less prejudiced individuals in diverse educational settings. Businesses seek graduates from these settings because they are better workers, create more positive workplaces and are a competitive necessity in an increasingly diverse country and globalized world economy. Recognizing diversity’s integral role in their success, 58 major corporations, including Microsoft and American Express, wrote in an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court that “The only means of obtaining a properly qualified group of employees is through diversity in institutions of higher education, which are allowed to recruit and instruct the best qualified minority candidates.”
In general, selective universities are a training ground for future leaders and are pathways to professional and graduate schools. The Association of American Medical Colleges and Association of American Law Schools agree that eliminating affirmative action reduces the diversity of their applicant pools, threatening the diversity of their own student bodies.
Some critics propose economic affirmative action as a race-neutral alternative. Including economic background is commendable and could improve accuracy of targeting of truly disadvantaged applicants. However, existing cases of switches to race-neutral alternatives prove that race remains a necessary factor. After the University of California ended affirmative action, it experienced massive declines in enrollment of black and Latino students, especially at Berkeley and UCLA, the most prestigious campuses, despite attempts to create alternative routes to minority recruitment. At Berkeley, black enrollment fell from between six and seven percent to only two percent in 2010. A study by Thomas Espenshade, professor of sociology at Princeton, and his colleague Alexandria Radford found that no substitute policy will generate as much racial and ethnic diversity as affirmative action.
Dismissal of affirmative action rests on the false assumption that America is truly post-racial. Creating such a society requires sustained efforts to resolve economic and educational inequalities. Affirmative action in higher education provides opportunities for disadvantaged minorities and improves educational quality for all. It helps preserve Emory’s diversity, which fuels the university’s intellectual and social energy. It is no silver bullet, but it remains an absolute necessity.
For the opposing opinion, click here
Cartoon by Katrina Worsham