What constitutes 'critical mass' in affirmative action?

UT prepares for Supreme Court case in December

The University of Texas (UT) may have to define what constitutes "critical mass" when the Supreme Court hears the affirmative action case against the school this winter—but in order to do so, they will have to walk a fine legal line.

The court will hear Fisher v. University of Texas for the second time on December 9. The case challenges the institution's admissions policy that allows the school to use affirmative action to reach a "critical mass" of minority students to form a diverse student body.

But there is no number or ratio defining what "critical mass" means. Generally, schools say they have achieved it when minority students do not feel like they are token members of their race and do not feel uncomfortable expressing their views.

EAB Daily Briefing Primer: Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin

But when the court first heard the case in 2012, Chief Justice John Roberts asked what the critical mass was—and did not receive a specific answer from UT's lawyer or from the federal government's lawyer.

However, if UT does define "critical mass" numerically, it may be seen as creating racial quotas—which are also illegal.

But failing to define critical mass specifically enough may open up the university to accusations that it kept its affirmative action parameters too broad (Jacobs, Business Insider, 10/8).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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