UT Austin's Consideration of Race in Admissions is Narrow, Necessary and Constitutional

Today, the University of Texas at Austin filed its brief to the United States Supreme Court as respondent in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.

The plaintiff in the case claims that she was denied undergraduate admission to the university in 2008 because she is white. But the facts show otherwise. In its brief, the university argues that its admissions system, which considers an applicant's race along with many other factors in an individualized, holistic review, is a constitutional practice that promotes the educational benefits of diversity at the university.

The university's brief states that "UT has learned through experience that diversity has invaluable educational benefits," and "better prepares students to become the next generation of leaders in an increasingly diverse work force and society.

"UT has a broad vision of diversity, which looks to a wide variety of individual characteristics including an applicant's culture; language; family; educational, geographic, and socioeconomic background; work, volunteer, or internship experiences; leadership experiences; special artistic or other talents, as well as race and ethnicity."

The brief explains that the university's policy meets the standards set out by the Supreme Court in 2003 in Grutter v. Bollinger and earlier in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. Those decisions prohibit racial quotas but acknowledge the importance of diversity and allowed universities to consider race among multiple factors while admitting students.

UT's admissions system was upheld by both the United States District Court of the Western District of Texas and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. According to the 5th Circuit, "It would be difficult for UT to construct a policy that more closely resembles the policy approved by the Supreme Court in Grutter."

Further, the university's holistic admissions process also avoids all of the concerns about specific targets for minority admissions that Justice Anthony Kennedy raised in his dissent in the Grutter case a decade ago.

Race is just one of many factors including leadership potential, extracurricular activities, honors and awards, work experience, community service and other special circumstances that the university considers along with a student's academic record and personal essays to assign a score that determines admissions under the holistic admissions process established in 2005. Race is not an automatic or predominant factor at any point in the admissions process. Further, applicants of any race may benefit from the use of race in the holistic admissions system, which considers an applicant's race in the context of his or her entire file.

This holistic policy is used to complement the automatic admission policy established by House Bill 588, more commonly known as the Top 10 Percent Law, which guarantees automatic admission to Texas public universities, including UT Austin, for in-state students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class.

The brief filed today argues that the Top 10 Percent Law, by itself, does not ensure the educational benefits of a diverse student body. Indeed, the Top Ten Percent Law bases the admissions decision on only a single criterion class rank. Holistic review allows for the consideration of a broad array of factors and thus fosters a broad diversity, including diversity within different racial groups.

Supporters of the university's admissions policy will file amicus briefs with the court by Aug. 13. The case will be argued on Oct. 10.

Other resources:

   Video of UT President Bill Powers discussing the Supreme Court brief

   Legal documents related to the Fisher case

   Demographic, Profile Admitted Freshman Class of 2008