AAUP Joins Defense of Affirmative Action

On Friday the AAUP joined the American Council of Education and 36 other higher education groups in filing an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Supreme Court the right of colleges to consider race in admissions.

The case is Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, over which the court will hear oral argument on December 9. This is actually a return to the court for the case. Ruling 7 to 1, the court in 2013 found that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had erred in not applying “strict scrutiny” to the policies of the University of Texas Austin.

The case is back at the Supreme Court because the original plaintiff and her lawyers maintain that lower courts did not adequately follow the Supreme Court’s directions in considering the case after the 2013 ruling.

“The interest in student diversity is compelling because [it is] grounded in educational benefit, and rooted in educational judgment,” the brief from the ACE, AAUP and the other higher education associations says. “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.”

“Colleges and universities cannot claim to provide an excellent education if they send students into the world wearing blinders,” the brief continues. “So, too, in 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.”

And the brief adds that colleges, not courts, should decide how to seek diversity. “For courts to override educators’ reasoned judgment on how and what kinds of diversity yield educational benefit would truncate American colleges’ and universities’ historic right to assemble students in a way that fits the institutions’ educational philosophies and contexts — philosophies and contexts that with salutary effect are themselves extraordinarily varied,” the brief argues.

“For some institutions, consideration of an applicant’s race and/or ethnicity serves a limited but important role in holistic review — consistent with decades of this court’s precedent,” the brief states. “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. 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.”

A decision by the Supreme Court is likely toward the end of its term, in June 2016.

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