Abigail Fisher is a young white woman now in her early 20s who applied to the University of Texas. She was denied admission after an exhaustive admissions process and a final decision. Fisher then sued the University of Texas on the basis of her race being a bar to admission.
She seeks redress under the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Her case reached the United States Supreme Court and was granted Certiorari earlier this year. The 14th Amendment provides Fisher with equal protection under the law.
Also, affirmative action laws seek to redress discrimination not specifically ameliorated under the existing Civil Rights laws. At bottom, affirmative action laws seek to level the playing field for all Americans.
The University of Texas has an exhaustive admissions policy which requires four years of high school English, four years of math, and four years of science, as well as three and a half years of a foreign language. Candidates must submit writing samples and achieve a minimum threshold score on the SAT or ACT exam. Fisher’s scores were slightly under their admissions requirement.
There is automatic admission for students within the top 10% of their graduating high school class. Fisher’s grades were in the top 12% which is slightly under the threshold. Accordingly, she was also denied admission under the “automatic criteria.” Being in the top 10% of the high school graduating class is a very fluid criterion because schools differ in the level of difficulty of the subject matter taught.
In addition, there are differences between grades in an honors course versus the standard course available to all students. For instance, grades in Spanish 4 would be weighed as heavily as Advanced Placement Spanish 4. In addition, students may take college credits in high school. A student taking Earth Science in the last year of high school would not face the same level of difficulty as a student taking Collegiate Physics in high school.
The University of Texas has a waiting list which students can apply for if they are not admitted. The waiting list has 300 seats. Most institutions have waiting lists because some students who receive acceptance letters may choose to attend another institution.
The sequential order of the waiting list is not dispositive. The University may consider space openings in accordance with seats available in specific academic major courses of study and not the sequential order of the list.
For instance, there could be openings in the Nursing Program, while the Computer Science Program might be booked solid. Students further down the list could be admitted to the Nursing Program because openings exist there.
All schools have some student attrition during the first semester of freshman year. The attrition rate can range anywhere from 5% to nearing 20% of the entering class. Numerically, the actual attrition opens up tens or even hundreds of student seats for a number of very understandable reasons, including the level of difficulty of the coursework, lack of student advance preparation, student lethargy, inability to cope with college, the failure of a student to seek the necessary tutoring assistance and other factors.
The University of Texas maintains a Transfer Student admissions criterion for students who have attended other institutions and seek to apply to the University of Texas to complete their degree program. Despite being denied, Fisher had the opportunity to attend one of over 60 community colleges in Texas.
After establishing a collegiate track record elsewhere, she had the opportunity to reapply under the Transfer Student status or just apply to another private or public institution. With her grades and transcript, other colleges would have awarded her a seat and potentially scholarship monies. Fisher decided to pursue this extensive lawsuit against the University instead.
In opening arguments this October 10, Justice Anthony Kennedy sought to gain insight into the University of Texas implementation of the law by stating: “What you’re saying is what counts is race above all.” Justice Anthony Kennedy has never voted in favor of an affirmative action program but has voiced a lot of sympathy for diversity in education.
Well before June 30, 2013, the United States Supreme Court will render a decision on Abigail Fisher v. University of Texas. In coming to a decision, the Court must decide just how far a college admissions office can go in affirming the spirit and intent of the existing Affirmative Action laws and the 14th Amendment. Their decision will have a far-reaching effect on the methodology or approach colleges will take toward admitting students to a host of academic programs.Powered by Sidelines