As Supreme Court Weighs Race and Admissions, Area Schools Watch and Wait

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on whether the University of Texas at Austin wrongly discriminated against a white woman who sought admission in 2008. The decision could have broad implications, and a wide range of interested parties in New York City are watching the case closely.

At the heart of the case is the way the University of Texas diversifies its student body. First, it accepts the top 10 percent of students in all high schools across the state. It fills roughly 85 percent of its freshman class this way. The remaining applicants then compete for a small share of open spaces based on personal achievements, academics and race and ethnicity.

Fordham and New York University submitted amicus briefs in support of the University of Texas. In a Catholic Blog Post, Fordham President Joseph McShane wrote “We try to develop in our students an understanding of, and reverence for, cultures and ways of life other than their own. We believe that such an understanding and reverence cannot be achieved absent a truly multiracial, multicultural student body.”

Many universities and colleges argue education is enriched by students being exposed to a variety of cultures, ideas and backgrounds.

But Heather McDonald from the Manhattan Institute maintains the importance of race is overplayed. 

“I think that the university’s obsession with race and ethnicity as the central access of human experience is very narrow and trivializing,” she said, adding that at many colleges self-segregation occurs.

McDonald believes affirmative action policies result in minority students being admitted into colleges they are ill prepared for academically. She points to California’s state system and says graduation rates improved among blacks once affirmative action was banned in the state.

But researchers say while graduation rates among minorities did improve, there could be several reasons why, including an effort to better "match" students to campuses.

The View from the Classroom

At the City University of New York, 55 percent of the undergraduate student body last fall was either black or Hispanic. At NYU, by contrast, 15 percent of the incoming freshman last fall fell into those categories.

Gabby Cohen, a sophomore at NYU, says she does benefit from having a mix of students in her class. But she does think affirmative action can sometime be abused.

“I also know a kid who got into Wharton at UPenn and put on his application that he was African American because his great-great-grandfather was African American,” she said.

The last time the Supreme Court ruled on an affirmative action case was 2003, when a white student named Barbara Grutter alleged the University of Michigan’s Law School weighed race too heavily when determining admissions giving blacks and Latinos an unfair advantage over her. The Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s admissions policy and ruled that diversifying a student body was a legitimate goal as long as race alone did not determine an applicant’s admission. 

Lee Bollinger, the current president of Columbia University was the president of University of Michigan at the time and the named defendant in the case, said diversity has been crucial to the success of higher education.

“If the majority of the justices were to take a look again at the Grutter case and to overturn Grutter and have a new approach interpreting the 14th Amendment as prohibiting considerations of race and ethnicity,” Bollinger said, “that would have profound effects on higher education.”

Bollinger predicts dramatic declines in blacks, Latinos and Native American enrollment at major universities if affirmative action policies are banned or weakened.


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Comments [9]

kevin from upper LS

no... but the artificial construct of "white", is racist. whether one acknowledges it, or is even conscious of it. euro-centric america, is unable to get over its shedding of its original tribal ethnicity. they don't know what the hell they are,so they hate with great ease to compensate. looking in a mirror rarely becomes a viable possibility.

Oct. 10 2012 08:45 PM
Frank Senger from Astoria

Affirmative Action was an attempt to level the playing field for African Americans due to the disenfranchisment and economic disadvantage brought about by slavery, Jim Crow and the anti civil rights positions advocated by former slave holding states. Perhaps people feel correctly, that the need for Affirmative Action has come to an end. So then simply pay the back wages and rewards for punative damages for the labor and human bondage caused by the institution of slavery to former slaves and their heirs for their contribution to buiding the richest nation in the world.

Oct. 10 2012 08:21 PM
rich king from Brooklyn NY

Your station WNYC is a stunning example of the biases "affirmative action" was designed to lessen. Your all-white staff members should look around and consider whether a small improvement in "affirmative recruitment" would bring some voices of color to your organization. Such an affirmative progam might serve to achieve a better level of equality and diversity in everything WNYC tries to accomplish.

Oct. 10 2012 06:27 PM

As a black woman, I rather work hard and prove myself worthy than to have a hand out. I am not disable. I am a normal intelligent human being. This race card games or favoritism have to stop now. I worked hard to have high GPA, graduated cum laude, and a member of the International Golden Key Honour Society. It's the parents who have the responsibilities of teaching and encouraging their children to learn the arts, different cultures, histories, other languages, and other subjects besides hip-hop and rap music. Explore the world!! I thank my mother for her support and encouragement who learned to speak English on her own when she came from Haiti 40 years ago.

Oct. 10 2012 05:15 PM

""In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way. In order to treat some persons equally, we must treat them differently. We cannot - we dare not - let the 14th Amendment perpetuate racial supremacy." - Justice Harry Blackmun in Bakke v. University of California.

Oct. 10 2012 04:11 PM
Erin Berman from New Jersey

As a socio-economically disadvantaged white person, I am an alumnus of an affirmative action law school program. As such, I understand that considering socio-economic status, exclusively, does not ensure diversity. As explained in Grutter, diversity contributes to the education of all students, and is legitimately achieved by considering race and ethnicity as part of the admissions process. The opportunity to discuss the legality of intervention in Bosnia with a Bosnian was only one of many intangible benefits I incurred from attending a diverse law school. My law school experience was richer because of affirmative action.

Oct. 10 2012 12:31 PM
Mary Wallis Gutmann from Morgantown, West Virginia

Interesting comment by the Justice. If we are not to legislate fairness, how will fairness come about? We humans are not naturally fair, especially in a competitive society based on a capitalist ethos. Perhaps if he were in an ancient Pueblo society he could expect that equal treatment would just happen. In ours, unfortunately, equality and fairness without legislation to promote them, rarely happens. The comment is a combination of wishful thinking and obfuscation.

Oct. 10 2012 10:18 AM
Andy NYC

Instead of using race as means for affirmative action; would it not be better to use Socio-Economic Status. This way it will help the people most in need of help. In addition I think it is much more transparent than the present system.

Oct. 10 2012 10:01 AM
Gordon Thompson from Harlem, New York

The Justice's pithy comment about ending all forms of discrimination is a short sighted syllogism: His statement ignores the notion that the affirmative action conundrum is as much about ending discrimination as it is about rectifying damage perpetrated in the past--discrimination that not only prevented blacks from entering schools and colleges based on the artificial levers of racism, but that also admitted white students, some of whom may not have been entirely qualified either. Admitting some blacks in to colleges who may not be as prepared as whites, thus, is not necessarily as damaging as folks may supposed. The statement in short-sighted in that it supposed that by pretending to create a system that makes no effort to rectify this imbalance will somehow present discriminations when any fair minded person ought to recognize by now that unconscious bias on the part of whites would likely perpetuate race based choices. Finally, while one form of discrimination has proven destructive to the society as a whole, it is less likely that some form of artificial balancing--even were it called discrimination--is championed precisely because it is likely to create a healthy social structure.

Oct. 10 2012 08:39 AM

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