Bwog Covers ABCD (Affirmative Action, Bollinger, And Court Decisions)

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The big man himself, repping affirmative action

Presidents set precedent

Our Arts Editor takes time off from his summer law internship to catch up on Supreme Court decisions and the continuing influence of our own PrezBo’s legal precedent from his time at the University of Michigan.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States decided the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin et al. and released a 4-3 decision, affirming the constitutionality of the University’s system of admissions with regard to the use of ‘race-sensitive admissions policies.’ Fisher originally brought her case before the Court in 2013, where it was remanded and sent back down to a lower court for strict scrutiny of the circumstances and application of the admissions policies.

Fisher alleged that the University of Texas disadvantaged her (a Caucasian) compared to students of racial minorities in the admissions process, positing that this discrimination against her violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This decision of the Court puts to rest these allegations of bias brought against the University, with Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor in concurrence with Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion. Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito dissented. Justice Kagan recused herself because of her involvement with the case as Solicitor General when it was in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In both the 2013 and 2016 written decisions, the Court reference two notable cases of precedent for affirmative action, both involving Columbia’s very own Lee C. Bollinger. While serving as president of the University of Michigan, Bollinger was the named defendant in cases brought against the undergraduate school and the law school at Michigan, Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger respectively.

While the Court determined that the undergraduate policies regarding racial preference were unconstitutional in Gratz v. Bollinger, the law school’s affirmative action policies were found constitutional by a 5-4 margin. Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in the majority opinion for Grutter v. Bollinger that the Constitution “does not prohibit the law school’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.” This statement set the precedent by which Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin et al. was ultimately decided; the University of Texas has in place what is considered a ‘narrow’ use of race in admissions with a well-defined purpose with regard to the educational and social benefits that the University enjoys from diversity.

Bollinger released a response on the Fisher decision, stating:

“With today’s decision, the Supreme Court has ensured that our nation’s universities and colleges can continue to assemble the kind of truly diverse student bodies that are essential to achieving the highest levels of excellence in teaching, learning and research. The ruling reaffirms the essential holding of Grutter v. Bollinger that narrowly tailored affirmative action programs can be justified by a range of important educational goals, including ending stereotypes and preparing students for an increasingly diverse workforce and society.

The fact is, affirmative action in higher education has been overwhelmingly successful and we should be proud of the impact it has had not only on college campuses, but in moving us closer to the integrated society first envisioned by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education. But the sad reality is that racial discrimination has deep roots in our history and an enduring impact on our society, especially in a public education system that remains overwhelmingly segregated and unequal. By preserving affirmative action in college admissions, this ruling sustains an essential element of the nation’s continuing efforts to address its defining historical challenge.”

For those interested in reading the full opinion of the Supreme Court on Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin et al, it can be found here.

The great man himself via Columbia’s alumni magazine

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  1. Affirmed Alumna CC '13

    Both the majority opinion and dissent have different takes from prior decisions on affirmative action. The majority opinion is rooted in the importance of having a diverse student body. The dissent scrutinizes the implications of "affirmative action" programs that do not well serve students of lower SES. Overall the decision represents a more fact-based conversation than prior decisions.

    I never considered that I might have been "mismatched" at Columbia. The transition was hard, as my high school had not prepared me for such a rigorous college experience. I had graduated in the top 5% of my public high school, and couldn't imagine that there was an academic setting for which I was unprepared! But I worked hard, learned a lot, improved, and was grateful for every moment at Columbia. I'm very glad someone took a chance on me.

    • Affirmed Alumna CC '13

      I should add that the ways I was unprepared for CC were based on my lack of exposure to certain subjects and lack of experience with high academic expectations. For instance, I had never studied the classics or written serious research papers and was used to getting work back with full points and little feedback.

      I never felt like lacking in my capacity to learn those subjects or adapt to the expectations at Columbia; it was simply a bumpy (yet ultimately rewarding) ride.

    • Anonymous

      Columbia is an assembly of the smartest students in the world studying here. Everyone was at the top of their former schools. Every student must work hard here in order to compete and be prepared. If you work hard, you will succeed.

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