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Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin

john a. powell, director, Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society | June 25, 2013

In an important decision, the U.S. Supreme Court, on June 24, in Fisher v. Texas, affirmed the vital principle that universities may pursue the goal of creating a diverse student body, using race as one component of many in admissions. Although the Court vacated the Appeals Court decision, which held that the University of Texas’ admissions policy was constitutional, it refused to strike down the University’s policy. While the Court today did not rule on the constitutionality of the University’s policy, it clarified the standard for review announced in the landmark 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger decision and concluded that the lower courts incorrectly applied that standard.

The Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley applauds the Court’s acknowledgement of the importance of building a diverse and inclusive university environment for the benefit of all students and the nation. The Court today affirmed its holding in Grutter, which recognized the educational benefits of diversity and the need to train leaders who can understand and successfully collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds.

The Haas Institute filed a brief in support of the University of Texas on behalf of 13 social and organizational psychologists which drew upon recent social science research demonstrating the benefits of diversity and the need for consideration of race in the University’s admissions decisions. In particular, the brief argued that the pathways to opportunity remain deeply unequal across the United States, and that Black and Latino students’ relative disadvantage in university admissions results from dozens of factors, including patterns of racial and economic isolation.

We argued that given the number and complexity of variables that shape educational outcomes, an admissions policy limited to race-neutral factors cannot capture their cumulative effect on educational opportunity. The brief also presented research to the Supreme Court illuminating how diversity improves academic performance, reduces prejudice, lowers stress and psychological barriers, and has broad positive effects on workforce development.

The Haas Institute is developing a technical assistance manual that will emphasize innovative approaches to preserving and promoting diversity and building inclusive educational environments in compliance with the parameters of law. For example, I, as the Institute’s executive director, have developed the opportunity mapping methodology, a multi-factor approach indexing neighborhood and individual variables correlating to opportunity.

Universities might employ opportunity indices to better understand the variance in access to resources that applicants enjoy. Given the relationship between race and the distribution of educational opportunity, opportunity scoring and enrollment would promote student body diversity and benefit the most disadvantaged students. The manual will also describe other race-conscious approaches that do not rely on individual racial classifications, such as percent-plans, geographic diversity, and reducing reliance on standardized test scores.

Today’s decision should encourage Universities nationwide to continue to pursue diversity and inclusion through both holistic admissions policies and the expansion of broader programs to increase access to higher education and ensure academic success for all students.

For more resources on alternative approaches that promote and sustain campus diversity:

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