When the Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to hear Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, media outlets reeled at the prospect that affirmative action could be abolished.
The case involves a white woman who believes that she was not accepted into the university because it gives unfair preference to minorities and could overturn the court’s 1978 decisions to approve affirmative action in higher education by allowing schools to use race as a factor in admissions decisions.
Like all cases, the Supreme Court should stick to its precedent when deciding what action to take.
In 2003, the Supreme Court upheld its affirmative action ruling when a white, in-state student with a GPA of 3.8 and a LSAT score of 161 complained that the University of Michigan gave extreme preference to race and that her civil rights were violated through reverse discrimination. The court ruled that diversity is a “compelling state interest” and should be given appropriate consideration.
Overturning the decision only nine years later for such a similar case could make it appear that any student who feels they were unfairly rejected from a university has grounds to complain that their civil rights are being violated.
Some states, such as Florida, have policies that prevent universities from considering race in admissions. However, even with other measures to ensure diversity in higher education, ethnicities are still not represented equally on campuses.
According to the USF Infocenter, about 60 percent of the 45,097 students currently enrolled at USF are white, 11 percent are black, 16 percent are Hispanic and 6 percent are Asian.
Robert Spatig, assistant vice president of Admissions, Recruitment and Enrollment Planning for USF, told The Oracle that the “use of race, ethnicity and gender has been illegal since 2000-01, when then-Gov. Jeb Bush issued an executive order known as ‘One Florida.’ Thus, no public university, state or community college in Florida can legally consider these factors when making admission decisions. And, while it’s too soon to know how the Supreme Court might rule in this case, it should not have any effect on how we admit students to USF.”
Florida universities cannot consider race in their applications, but can consider other factors that may increase diversity or otherwise indicate race, including geographic distribution and income. This provision attests to the existence of racial gaps in secondary education. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, 40 percent fewer minority students met university admission standards under ‘One Florida’ than the number enrolled under affirmative action before it was passed.
Texas and Florida boast policies that allow the top 10 and 20 percent of students, respectively, be admitted into any state university. However, the Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males reports that only 47 percent of black males graduate high school, which may account for much of the disparities between both blacks and whites and males and females in higher education.
Affirmative action has a long way to go toward achieving its goals, and ending it now could end a decades-long fight for equality for all.