Skip to Content | Skip to Search | Skip to Navigation

Two views on today’s Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action

June 24, 2013
Bloomington, Indiana --

Beth CateSPEA professor, lawyer, and former IU associate general counsel Beth Cate…

This decision doesn’t require schools that use race in admissions to make immediate changes to their programs, but while schools wait and see what the final outcome is in Fisher, they will probably go back to see whether and how they may narrow their use of race in admissions. Schools likely have been developing contingency plans since the Supreme Court took up the Fisher case (and of course, Grutter calls for schools to continually review the need for the use of race to achieve the educational benefits of a broadly diverse student body, so in theory at least schools have been doing this all along).

If the UT plan survives a second time at the Fifth Circuit using the stringent standard announced today by the Court, it seems likely the Court will take the case up again, unless another case emerges first as a better vehicle for the Court to weigh in on the future role of race in admissions, and today’s decision will fuel further legal challenges to race-conscious admissions programs. To prepare for this, schools will be looking to gather as much “hard” evidence as possible of the educational benefits that flow from having racial diversity as a component of overall diversity in their schools, and the need to consider race in combination with other characteristics in ways that truly break down stereotypes and enhance learning, and why it is insufficient to simply substitute other characteristics that may be correlated with race, like socioeconomic status, single-parent households, or first-time college attendance within the family.

Schools have known since Grutter that the clock has been ticking on the use of race in admissions, and the clock speeded up when the Court agreed to take up the Fisher case. After today schools may use race in admissions only if “no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity...’about as well and at tolerable expense.’” Notably, the Court observed that higher percentages of African-American and Hispanic students were admitted to UT under an earlier race-neutral regime in Texas than under a later system that expressly took race into account. So, it may well be that the use of race in admissions decisions won’t survive in the face of a so-called “race neutral” approach like Texas’s Top Ten Percent plan that admits significant numbers of minority students – even though such plans are really race conscious, as Justice Ginsburg rightly notes in her dissent, and even though many schools argue they are too blunt an instrument to achieve a real educational benefit from the presence of racial minorities. This in turn may mean that today’s opinion – and the fact that the Court will review next term a Sixth Circuit decision striking down Michigan’s ban on the use of race in admissions – serve as signals to state politicians looking to end the use of race in admissions, as much as to schools.

President Michael McRobbieIndiana University president Michael A. McRobbie…

While we are disappointed that the court did not rule in favor of the University of Texas at Austin, we are pleased that the previously established principle of limited race-conscious admissions standards remains intact. Indiana University will analyze the decision carefully before taking any action as a result of the Fisher case. Regardless of its eventual impact on our admissions practices, IU remains steadfastly committed to its longstanding goal of providing outstanding educational opportunities to students from historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, as is evidenced in this case by the university's decision to file an amicus brief in support of the University of Texas.

We will continue to seek ways to strengthen our efforts in this very important area. Limited race-conscious admissions practices have proven to be an effective tool to extend vital educational opportunities to all students. It is essential for universities, especially public institutions such as Indiana University, to provide such opportunities and, in turn, ensure their student bodies reflect the diversity of the world in which we live.

Providing opportunities for students from historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups is not only the right thing to do, but the perspectives and experiences that a diverse student body brings to an IU education also represent a critical part of helping students be successful in the increasingly diverse and international 21st century. IU will continue to be as inclusive as possible in its admissions decisions within the bounds of the law.