Affirmative Action Holistic Bias

Back in June, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling that the lower courts hadn’t fully investigated whether or not an affirmative action policy was actually constitutional. In fact, they hadn’t even properly applied the test for such situations.

The University of Texas at Austin (UT), like all public colleges in Texas, automatically accepts Texas undergrads who graduate in the top percent of their high school class. This is known as the Top Ten Percent program or the TTPP rule if you’re a cool kid. The original goal for this legislation was to allow for more racial diversity at UT and other Texas schools. And while the vast majority of Longhorn students are admitted under the TTPP, those who do not instantly qualify have their applications inspected through a more holistic lense. Meaning, a student’s race could boost their chance of admission  in an effort to increase diversity. Leading some to ask: Isn’t that the job of the Top Ten Percent Program?

In 2008, Abigail Fisher, a white applicant, sued UT after being rejected for the fall semester. Her argument? Although she didn’t quite wiggle her way into the top ten percent, Fisher’s GPA and SAT scores were superior to some minority students accepted under the holistic reviews. Abigail didn’t meet much success in the lower courts, both ruled in UT’s favor. A largely predictable result. But surprisingly enough, the Supreme Court reversed the ruling and sent the case back down to the lower courts.

It turns out, the Supreme Court didn’t feel like overturning its ruling on Grutter v. Bollinger, its 2003 decision upholding affirmative action in university admissions. It just held that the lower courts hadn’t properly applied the “strict scrutiny” test issued in Grutter. Basically, the test is means for universities to show its use of race admissions is “narrowly tailored” to the pursuit of racial diversification in upper education. Meaning that no other race-neutral alternative to the university’s admissions policy could benefit diversity in the same way.

The Supreme Court found the lower courts lacking in their process of examining UT’s admissions policy and whether or not it was truly necessary for achieving racial diversity. And with the amount of tip-toeing around race related issues going on these days it’s hardly surprising. This ruling is particularly interesting in light of the TTPP, a program seen as dedicated way to provide a wider strata of students attending high quality state schools, though it is unclear what effect it will have on Texas admissions policies in the future. Will the TTPP be abolished and a more holistic approach be applied to all applicants? Or perhaps the ten percent rule will turn into the top twenty percent rule expansion for more minority students. At this point it’s hard to predict, but one can only hope that the outcome of this case provides a fair and unbiased method of admitting students of all races.

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