The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a new case on the issue of race-based affirmative action, after having ruled 5-4 in favor of affirmative action in the 2003 case Grutter v. Bolinger. The dissolution of race-based affirmative action should lead to an overall fairer system in the college application process, but only if it is replaced by a similar class-based affirmative action.
The Grutter v. Bolinger decision affirmed the right of college universities to use race as a determining factor in student selection. This new case, Fisher v. University of Texas, faces a far more conservative court that could undo affirmative action. The case pertains to a white student, Abigail Fisher, who is suing the University of Texas based on the assertion that she was denied admission unfairly due to her race.
Should Fisher win, the effects would be dramatic for students across the country. This is due to the still very real achievement gap between students of minorities in the United States.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress is a congressionally commissioned study that has shown a consistent achievement gap between white students and black and Latino students.A similar study conducted by the Center on Education Policy shows a widening achievement gap between Asian-American students and other ethnicities. The report showed that Asian-American students in the 8th grade were 18% more likely to score as top performers in math than white students.
Thus, the dissolution of affirmative action would likely result in the number of white and Asian-American students accepted to top universities increasing, while the number of African-American, Hispanic, and Native-American students decreasing.
Affirmative action is a tricky issue for universities. By inserting racial consciousness into the decision process, universities risk excluding more qualified students. Do away with the system, and campuses may become less diverse, hurting the overall school environment.
Perhaps a more useful alternative would be class-based affirmative action, rather than race-based affirmative action. Minority groups make up the majority of the poor in the United States, so class-based affirmative action in universities would still promote racial diversity, but without racial discrimination. Lower income Asian-American and white students, who are presently at a huge disadvantage, would receive enormous benefit through this system.
In the Supreme Court’s majority ruling in Grutter v. Bolinger, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote, “The Court expects that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.” Necessary or not, the days of race-based affirmative action may come to an end sooner rather than later.