Several higher ed groups file briefs to Supreme Court supporting affirmative action

Both focus on rights of colleges to set own admission policies

Two briefs supporting the University of Texas at Austin in the upcoming Supreme Court affirmative action case were filed this week, both of which argued for the rights of individual colleges to make their own admission policies, Scott Jaschik reports for Inside Higher Ed.

Background

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

The briefs

One brief was filed last week by the American Council on Education (ACE) on behalf of itself and 37 other groups that represent presidents, academe, accreditor, and faculty groups. Among them are the NCAA, American Association of University Professors, and Educause.

Jaschik reports that a second brief was expected to be filed Monday by four admissions groups:  American Association of Collegiate Registrars, the College Board, the Law School Admission Council, and the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Both briefs focus on the rights of colleges to determine their own admission policies and how a diverse student body benefits all enrolled, not just those from minority backgrounds.

"Although selective higher education institutions express student body diversity in various ways based on their respective educational missions, their basic objectives are the same—to admit and support a cohort of students whose 'chemistry,' individually and collectively, fosters exceptional learning," reads the ACE brief.

It argues that when sending graduates into "fields such as law, the natural sciences, and medicine, where international collaboration increasingly is indispensable, students today must receive direct experience with people of different backgrounds, including race and ethnicity. Students cannot adequately acquire it from books, and they will sorely need it."

Courts should not be the ones defining diversity, the brief says, as that would "truncate American colleges' and universities' historic right to assemble students in a way that fits the institutions' educational philosophies and contexts."

The admissions brief makes a similar argument, but focuses on colleges' right to base their decisions on "holistic" reviews—which take into account race and other factors.

Denying admissions officers any knowledge of an applicant's race denies them of important information, the brief says.

"The consideration of race or ethnicity in light of other elements in a student's application may provide unique opportunities for applicants to convey their experiences and for admissions professionals to make more contextualized, informed decisions," it reads. "Precluding consideration of race and ethnicity would, for many institutions, undermine their ability to consider every relevant facet of an individual applicant and to achieve the institution's broader goals" (Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 11/2).

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