Revisiting Affirmative Action

Should affirmative action continue to be a valid criterion for the college admission process? Is it acceptable to disregard the merits of one in order to give another a chance at advancement? Is that morally sound? Even if it is not, the college admissions process has integrated affirmative action in its review of its applicants. However, that may change if the Supreme Court reverses its stance on it next fall.

On Feb. 21, 2012, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear an appeal concerning the constitutionality of Texas’ affirmative action laws. The Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of affirmative action for the third time in the fall when it rules on the case of Fisher v. University of Texas, Austin.

Abigail Fisher, a white student, is suing the University of Texas, Austin, for its preferential admission of minorities. She argues that her qualifications exceeded those of the admitted minority students and concludes that her only debilitating quality was her race. Therefore, her rejection violates the equal protection clause guaranteed in the 14th Amendment by adopting racism against whites. While racism is generally thought of as discriminating against an underrepresented minority, Fisher’s case makes a point on the inherent inequality of affirmative action especially as practiced in Texas.

The Supreme Court is taking on Fisher’s case due the unique factor not present in previous affirmative action cases: Texas’ top 10 policy Previously, proponents of affirmative action cited that diversity was an important attribute to the universities and was thus justified, but Texas’s top 10 policy questions the necessity of further affirmative action. The 1997 law states that the top 10 percent of each graduating high school is guaranteed admission to a public university which guarantees Texas universities a varied composition for its student body.

Fisher’s lawyer argues that the use of race to bring diversity to the University is unnecessary due to Texas’s top 10 policy, and so the affirmative action practiced is unconstitutional since equality is overshadowed by the need for diversification in its student population. The underlying principle questioned is, “Whether a public university can layer racial preferences over a non-racial admissions plan that ensures very substantial levels of minority enrollment.” Is it fair to deny a more qualified student admission to a public university simply because he or she is not considered a part of the minority? While it is understandable that the government wishes to give opportunities for advancement to minorities, the consequences thrust upon members of the majority must also be considered.

The disadvantage placed on members of the majority is a consequence of the government’s attempt to reverse their support of segregation given in the Board of Education. Affirmative action claims that preferential admission to members of the minority is justified through the opportunities it provides to the group of people who are determined less likely to succeed due to socio-economic factors, which generally takes into account race. Therefore, affirmative action is an inherently unfair principle since preferential treatment is given for an immutable human trait. Consequently, equality cannot be fully present since preferential treatment is present.

The propagation of a chance at success for the minority is shadowed by the expense of an opportunity for an equally qualified candidate in the majority. The principles of a meritocracy then become compromised since the color of one’s skin overshadows an individual’s merit. Affirmative action lessens the importance of individual qualifications and instead places value on a group, and in this case, a race. Since race is an immutable quality, the practice of affirmative action in Texas could violate the equal protection clause and thus become unconstitutional since the minorities become the privileged group.

While most would consider being a part of the majority a privilege, when spoken in terms of the college admissions process, it may be a deterrent. The ruling of the Supreme Court next fall may impact the admission of many students into graduate school programs, but it may not be due to the unique nature of Fisher’s case and Texas’ admissions process. Either way, the Supreme Court will once again take a stance on affirmative action and determine the validity of using race as a factor for admissions.

 

Stephanie Cheng is a first-year chemistry major. She can be reached at sccheng1@uci.edu.