WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 24, 2013) — In a 7-to-1 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court voted Tuesday to send its long-awaited ruling on affirmative action back to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for further review. The Court’s decision on the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case–involving the use of race as a factor in determining college admissions — leaves intact the fundamental principle that diversity is to be kept alive for now through the use of race.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a statement saying that he is pleased that the Supreme Court ruling preserves the well-established legal principle that colleges and universities have a compelling interest in achieving the educational benefits that flow from a racially and ethnically diverse student body, and can lawfully pursue that interest in their admissions programs.
“As the Court has repeatedly recognized, a diverse student enrollment promotes cross-racial understanding and dialogue, reduces racial isolation, and helps to break down stereotypes,” Duncan said. “This is critical for the future of our country because racially diverse educational environments help to prepare students to succeed in an increasingly diverse workforce and society.
“The Department continues to be a strong supporter of diversity, and will continue to be a resource to any college or university that seeks assistance in pursuing diversity in a lawful manner,” he added.
The Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund’s president & executive director, Neil Horikoshi, and the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education’s principal investigator, Robert Teranishi, issued the following joint statement today:
“We are pleased with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to affirm the benefits of diversity in higher education. The ruling is sure to result in continued and much-needed dialogue that will hopefully advance diversity in higher education, particularly as it relates to college access for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students.
“Research tells us that diverse campus settings help to prepare all students to engage their local neighborhoods and communities, creating necessary and fair opportunities to compete more effectively in an increasingly globalized economy. We believe such diversity in higher education strengthens our nation’s citizenry and builds a strong democracy.
“In particular, the benefits of diversity are extremely important for AAPI students whose unique needs are overlooked and underserved. The Court’s decision affirms that AAPI students can benefit from consideration of their backgrounds to afford them more equitable access to higher education. This is essential for diversifying the next generation of leaders in our nation and helping AAPIs break through the so-called ‘bamboo ceiling.’”
Asian Americans Advancing Justice (Advancing Justice) is encouraged by today’s Supreme Court decision, however, it is concerned that sending the case back to the lower court, and ordering it to take a closer look at whether UT Austin’s consideration of race was necessary. Advancing Justice stands by its commitment to race-conscious admissions programs and is confident that UT Austin’s consideration of race in its admissions policy is constitutional.
“Our communities benefit from these programs because K-12 schools are more segregated and unequal today than they were 40 years ago and the predictive value of a standardized test like the SAT is minimal at best,” said Christopher Punongbayan, acting executive director of Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus (ALC). “UT-Austin’s holistic admissions program rightly recognizes that in order to fully understand and evaluate an applicant’s experience, achievements, and promise, schools need to look at the whole person, including race.” Advancing Justice – ALC is co-counsel on a lawsuit that challenges Proposal 2, a Michigan state ballot initiative, like California’s Proposition 209, that banned race-conscious affirmative action in public higher education. The case is slated to be heard before the Supreme Court next term.
Last summer, Advancing Justice and a coalition of more than 70 Asian American groups filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in Fisher in support of race-conscious admissions programs in higher education. The brief described how race-conscious admissions programs have opened up the doors for Asian Americans in higher education, employment, and government contracting. Also it argued that the breadth of challenges faced by the Asian American community, which is composed of dozens of distinct ethnic groups with greatly differing experiences, socio-economic status, and educational attainment, cannot be adequately captured without considering race as one factor when their overall application is individually reviewed.
UT-Austin has a hybrid admissions plan. Its “Top Ten Percent” plan admits applicants based solely on whether the student graduated at the top ten percent of her or his class. Most of UT-Austin’s class is admitted through the Top Ten Percent plan. UT-Austin’s holistic admission program, on the other hand, admits students based on an individualized review of each applicant, taking into account a wide range of factors including, test scores, grades, awards, extracurricular activities, leadership, socio-economic status, languages spoken at home, family responsibilities, and race. UT Austin’s holistic review does not use quotas, award fixed points, or set aside any designated seats for students of color. In the year Fisher applied, only 14 percent of UT-Austin’s entering class were admitted through the holistic admissions program.
“We are pleased that the court has reaffirmed that diversity in education is a compelling and critical national interest,” said Mee Moua, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC. “We are optimistic that after the lower court has reviewed UT Austin’s policy that colleges and universities will continue to have the flexibility they need to ensure equal educational access for all and diversity in the classroom.”
“Holistic admissions programs are vital components of higher education,” said Tuyet Le, Advancing Justice – Chicago executive director. “They help to develop students who can successfully contribute to a diverse society, which is something we all have a stake in.”
“Asian Americans have a long history of supporting affirmative action programs in coalition with other communities of color,” said Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director of Advancing Justice – Los Angeles. “Asian Americans, like all students, benefit from programs that consider all aspects of a candidate’s life experience, including race and language spoken at home. Given that the Supreme Court has re-affirmed that universities can consider racial and ethnic diversity in admissions, we encourage higher educational institutions to continue to ensure that all students have the equal opportunity they deserve to receive a quality college education.”