The National School Boards Association, the College Board, and 11 other national educational groups today filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court strongly supporting the University of Texas’ use of race as one of multiple factors in admission decisions.
In January, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously for the defendants in Fisher v. University of Texas. The plaintiffs then appealed to the Supreme Court, which accepted the case in February, thereby signaling its willingness to revisit diversity law. Legal experts say that a high court reversal of the earlier decision would represent a profound change in affirmative action law and a serious setback to school districts and universities seeking to diversity their programs.
“I think it’s ominous,” Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, told the New York Times earlier this year. “It threatens to undo several decades of effort within higher education to build a more integrated and just and educationally enriched environment.”
The case is being closely watched by public school leaders as well. Among those groups joining NSBA in today’s brief are the American Association of School Administrators, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the Texas Association of School Boards Legal Assistance Fund.
“The National School Boards Association is committed to the principle that diversity promotes the educational achievement of all students,” NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant said today. “Preserving the ability to develop sound, academically driven diversity policies is in the best interests of all students in our public schools and beyond.”
Bollinger was president of the University of Michigan in 2003, when the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Grutter v. Bollinger that the university’s use of race was constitutional as long as it was part of a “holistic” assessment of candidates that included other factors. It was that decision that has guided the University of Texas and many other educational institutions as they try to diversity their academic programs and prepare a workforce for the 21st century.
Under a 2004 state law, all Texas high school seniors in the top 10 percent of their classes are automatically admitted to the Texas state university of their choice — a requirement that accounted for 81 percent of the 2008 freshman class at the University of Texas, according to a recent College Board report. (The university limits out-of-state residents to 10 percent of the freshman class.)
The remaining in-state candidates are then evaluated on both academic and personal achievement indexes. Among the personal achievement indexes – which include socioeconomic status, and family status and responsibilities – is race. “No element of the personal achievement score is considered separately or given a separate numerical value,” the report said.
The College Board report was written by attorney Arthur L. Coleman, who wrote the court brief filed today. Coleman also collaborated with Katherine E. Lipper and NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr. on the 2011 publication Achieving Educational Excellence for All: a Guide to Diversity-Related Policy Strategies for School Districts.