The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

CUPA-HR Joins Other Higher Ed Groups to Submit Amicus Brief to Supreme Court in Fisher v. UT Austin

Supreme CourtOn October 30, CUPA-HR, the American Council on Education (ACE) and 36 other higher education associations filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (UT) as the Court prepares to hear arguments for a second time, on December 9, regarding the constitutionality of UT’s diversity in admissions policy.

The case focuses on Abigail Fisher, a white woman denied admission to UT in 2008, who sued the university after her application was rejected, stating that the only difference between her and the other successful applicants was “the color of our skin.” UT admits the vast majority of students (80 percent) in a class based on the Texas Ten Percent Plan, which grants students in the top 10 percent of their high school class automatic admission to the Texas public university of their choice. For the remaining 20 percent of its entering class, UT uses a holistic review, considering race among many other factors, in its admission policy.

The suit, brought in 2008, made its way up to the Supreme Court in 2013 following the decisions of a federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to uphold the university’s policy. When Fisher appealed to the Supreme Court in 2013 (Fisher I) on the grounds that UT’s policy is inconsistent with Grutter v. Bollinger – the 2003 University of Michigan case confirming the appropriate but limited role race can play in college admissions – the justices voted to vacate the decision and remanded the case for further consideration.

In its decision, the Supreme Court maintained that the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body merit the consideration of race. However, it also found that the court of appeals did not apply the correct standard of “strict scrutiny” to UT’s admission’s policies. Following the subsequent decision of the Fifth Circuit that UT had indeed met the strict scrutiny standard, Fisher appealed again, setting up December’s hearing.

Our jointly submitted brief explains the important role student diversity plays in the collective educational objectives of colleges and universities seeking “to admit and support a cohort of students whose ‘chemistry,’ individually and collectively, fosters exceptional learning.” The brief explains that “the interest in student diversity is compelling because [it is] grounded in educational benefit and rooted in educational judgment” — a view affirmed by past Supreme Court justices in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, Grutter and Fisher I — and that colleges and educators, not courts, are best equipped to gauge “how and what kinds of diversity yield educational benefit.”

As success in today’s economy relies on collaboration with an increasingly diverse workforce, students today must receive direct experience with people of different backgrounds, and colleges and universities must have the right to assemble students to make such direct experience possible.