Orange County News - Aug 29, 2005

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas, a case that could end Affirmative Action policies at universities across the nation. While the court is predictably divided along partisan lines, Justice Antonin Scalia argued some minority students need “slower-track” schools.

After Gregory Garre, the solicitor for the University of Texas, argued diversity at the institution would plummet if it were no longer allowed to use race as one factor in admission decisions, Scalia gave the most cringe-worthy response of the day.

There are those who contend that it does not benefit African­ Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less advanced school–a slower-track school where they do well. One of the briefs pointed out that most of the Black scientists in the country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.

I’m just not impressed by the fact that the University of Texas may have fewer [Black people]. Maybe it ought to have fewer. And maybe some– you know, when you take more, the number of Blacks, really competent Blacks, admitted to lesser schools, turns out to be less. And ­­I­ don’t it think stands to reason that it’s a good thing for the University of Texas to admit as many Black as possible.

Ironically, while Scalia argued that so-called less qualified Black students shouldn’t be admitted to the University of Texas, the plaintiff in the case, Abigail Fisher, who claimed she was passed over for admission in favor of minority students, was not a stellar applicant either.

ProPublica broke it down:

Fisher said in news reports that she hoped for the day universities selected students “solely based on their merit and if they work hard for it.” But Fisher failed to graduate in the top 10 percent of her class, meaning she had to compete for the limited number of spaces up for grabs.

She and other applicants who did not make the cut were evaluated based on two scores. One allotted points for grades and test scores. The other, called a personal achievement index, awarded points for two required essays, leadership, activities, service and “special circumstances.” Those included socioeconomic status of the student or the student’s school, coming from a home with a single parent or one where English wasn’t spoken. And race.

Those two scores, combined, determine admission.

Even among those students, Fisher did not particularly stand out. Court records show her grade point average (3.59) and SAT scores (1180 out of 1600) were good but not great for the highly selective flagship university. The school’s rejection rate that year for the remaining 841 openings was higher than the turn-down rate for students trying to get into Harvard.

As a result, university officials claim in court filings that even if Fisher received points for her race and every other personal achievement factor, the letter she received in the mail still would have said no.

The court is expected to make a decision in the case next summer, but based on today’s arguments, court watchers believe the result may not turn out well for Affirmative Action supporters.

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