A form of affirmative action is needed in university admissions to promote a diverse environment reflecting the changing demographic in the workplace across the nation. However, this action needs to take a more holistic approach toward maintaining the quality of diversity at universities through Texas’ Top 10 Percent Plan.
This past month, the Supreme Court has been hearing the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case. According to the amicus brief document from the Fifth Circuit, Abigail Fisher and Rachel Michalewicz, who are both white, were denied admission to UT in 2008. The two filed suit under allegations the university had racially discriminated them by violating the Equal Protection Clause.
Based on the current makeup of the Supreme Court, it seems likely Fisher and Michalewicz could win. As a result, this could mean affirmative action could be banned at universities. In addition, institutions with an already diverse student body through race-neutral choices will have to avoid implementing any race-conscious admission processes.
Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) is the precedent case in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.
According to the case brief on the Oyez website, the court held the University of Michigan Law School’s use of race-conscious admissions did not violate the Equal Protection Clause. The decision was due to the school’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions. But, the Grutter case’s flaw is the aim for “critical mass” of underrepresented minority students. According to the same case brief, Erica Munzel testified “critical mass” meant “a number that encourages underrepresented minority students to participate in the classroom and not feel isolated.”
In the Grutter case, that value is more tangible because it was in regard to law school admissions. For undergraduate admissions at a large state university, such as Texas State, that “critical mass” number is much harder to fathom. Even so, the effects of overturning Grutter v. Bollinger would be monumental. It could prematurely put into effect lofty ideals and leave hundreds of already disadvantaged students in a more precarious state.
To combat this, an even approach of considering low-income schools and communities in poverty is necessary for admissions. According to a May 1 New Yorker article, the Top 10 Percent Plan automatically admits any Texas students graduating from the top 10 percent of their high school classes to state universities. This plan needs to remain in place to ensure a variety of applicants are considered for admissions.
With UT’s close proximity to Texas State, the Supreme Court case likely hits close to home for many students. According to an Oct. 25 University Star article, 254 white, 212 Hispanic, 50 black, 5 Asian and 27 other freshmen students were automatically admitted to Texas State under the plan.
According to an Oct. 19, 2011 University Star article, black students composed 7 percent of the campus population last fall. According to a Feb. 8 University Star article, the white and non-Hispanic ethnic group comprised 59.4 percent of the student body. Texas State is classified as a Hispanic Serving Institution. Along with that classification, the Top 10 Percent Plan allows for diversity in automatically admitted students that is relatively proportional to the overall student body race makeup at the university.
In a state that has had a past of deeply segregated schools, the Fisher case should demonstrate the Top 10 Percent Plan is needed as a vehicle for opportunity at Texas State and other universities in Texas.
—Ravi Venkataraman is a creative writing masters student.