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Race affects university admissions

By Rofina Johnkennedy
On September 18, 2013

Dr. Preston C. Green III, professor of Urban Education at the University of Connecticut's Neag School of Education, gave a keynote speech on Tuesday about a Supreme Court issue relevant to public university students: the factor of race in university admissions. Termed affirmative action, this plan is utilized by universities to diversify the student body. To commemorate Constitution Day, Dr. Green spoke about the controversy surrounding affirmative action, whose constitutionality is challenged by the current Supreme Court case Fisher v. University of Texas.
In 2009, Abigail Fisher filed a suit against the University of Texas for denying her admission, allegedly based on her race. She cited violation of the Equal Protection Clause, part of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution that states that no state shall deny a person equal protection of the law. The U.S. District Court upheld the university's policy, citing the previous court case Grutter v. Bollinger, which had approved of University of Michigan Law School's affirmative action policy on the grounds of compelling government interest in diversity. Fisher's representatives filed petition for a review from the Supreme Court in 2011. Since October 2012, the case has remained on the Court's calendar.
Dr. Green discussed several aspects of the issue, detailing relevant court cases and the evolution of the admissions policies of UT Austin. Currently, UT Austin assures admission to students in the top 10 percent of their graduating class. Those not falling into this category will be admitted based on their academic index and personal achievement index, which includes consideration of special circumstances, socio-economic status, language spoken at home and race, among other factors. It was under the basis of the two indices that Fisher was rejected, as she did not graduate in the top 10 percent of her class.
There is a real concern among supporters of affirmative action that the overruling of Grutter v. Bollinger may decrease the number of minority students admitted to universities. Others, however, question the assertion that affirmative action promotes diversity. Aayushi Mehta, a sophomore PNB major, asserts that she is against affirmative action: "It's not fair to reject someone who is affluent or part of a majority group through no fault of their own." She adds: "It's like trying to get rid of discrimination by creating more discrimination."
Diversity aside, this issue has deeper implications about the nation's educational system. While further addressing the relevance of this issue, Dr. Green said that the "Fisher case suggests that Supreme Court will not allow the use of university's racial preferences in admissions to correct the disparities in elementary and secondary education. Many scholars, including yours truly, have noted that an unstated purpose of university racial preferences is to address racial disparities in the education of elementary and secondary school levels."
To eliminate the need for affirmative action, the focus would have to be on elementary and secondary schools to overcome the racial achieving gap.
He noted that there is a "substantial gap as measured in standardized tests" and that closing this gap is necessary. He also said that the University of Connecticut has made "addressing [the] racial achieving gap as one if its goals" and that it is a "timely focus" on the university's part.
As for UConn's stance on the issue, the university's statement in the amicus curiae brief filed in 2012 asserts that while it "has no formal policy with respect to race or ethnicity in admissions," the university strives to take "a holistic review of each applicant."
The true influence of affirmative action in universities across the nation can possibly undergo a drastic change after the Court's ruling in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas.

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