Yesterday, the Supreme Court sort of upheld race-based affirmative action. In the case of Fisher v. Texas, in which a white girl named Abigail Fisher sued the University of Texas for not admitting her and practicing race-based affirmative action, a lower court ruled in favor of the University.
Many Supreme Court watchers expected the conservative justices on the Supreme Court would overturn the lower court’s decision and rule that affirmative action was unconstitutional. Instead, the Court ruled 7-1 (with 1 abstention) that the case should be reargued in the lower court. Basically, the Court dodged the question of whether race-based affirmative action is constitutional.
So the press turned to the next best authority on affirmative action: Prezbo, who was involved in two landmark affirmative action case back in 2002, when he was president of the University of Michigan. In those cases, Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, the Court basically ruled that it was OK for schools to consider race in admissions, as long as they didn’t set racial quotas or say that being black was equal to a certain number of SAT points. The Court also insisted, as they had in an earlier case called Bakke v. University of California, that race could only be used for the purpose of having a diverse class, not to correct for historical discrimination against minorities.
Bwog asked Prezbo for comment and he sent us this exclusive statement (emphasis ours):
For American colleges and universities, today’s Supreme Court ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas is most significant for its reaffirmation of the educational value in preserving our decades-old ability to assemble racially and culturally diverse student bodies that advance our mission. At Columbia, we take great pride in an undergraduate student body with as high a percentage of low- and moderate-income students as any of our peer institutions and the largest number of military veterans, as well as the highest percentage of African American students among the nation’s top 30 universities. Over and over, our students tell us that they come for the intellectual excitement produced by the various kinds of diversity on our campus. In fact, when I addressed Columbia’s class of 2013 at last month’s commencement, the loudest applause from the graduates came in response to my suggestion that encountering the diversity of their talented classmates was the most influential part of their experience on campus.
To be sure, the Court has insisted on strict scrutiny of how we achieve these valuable goals. But as decades pass from the Civil Rights era defined by the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, we should be mindful that that we don’t lose a vital sense of connection to the larger social issues that animate these policies and constitutional principles. As scholars and citizens we must understand both our history and the continuing reality of a society that has struggled with racial equality. Our great system of higher education is just one among our public and private institutions and businesses in embracing the importance of diversity in our country.