Promoting Equal Opportunity, Union and Liberties Groups Urge High Court to Leave Univ. of Texas Admissions Policy Alone

August 20, 2012

by Jeremy Leaming

Our Society continues to be adversely impacted because of racial stereotypes and divisions, regardless of the rhetoric from opponents of education admissions policies that seek to create a diverse student body. The opponents of such policies are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate the University of Texas at Austin’s admissions policy that takes race into account.

But in a friend-of-the-court brief recently filed with the Supreme Court by some of the nation’s largest unions representing education associations, national unions and civil liberties advocates, detail why the nation’s educational institutions must be allowed to combat racial divisions and stereotypes by promoting and advancing diverse student bodies.

“In sum, ours is not a color-blind society, and race still matters,” the groups state in their 38-page brief. “When it comes to public elementary and secondary education, minority and nonminority students of equal ability do not, in the aggregate, have equal opportunities. In light of this inescapable fact, the mission of public elementary, secondary, and higher education cannot be fulfilled without affirmative efforts to achieve racially diverse classrooms. Such racial diversity in classrooms, as we now show, contributes significantly to the fulfillment of the public educational mission.”

Recently the Constitutional Accountability Center, along with some of the nation’s leading constitutional scholars, lodged a friend-of-the-court brief with the high court in Fisher v. University of Texas to be heard in the high court’s next term showing why the admission’s policy  is supported by the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, which is supposed to foster equal protection. CAC’s David H. Gans says, “Both in writing the text and in enacting race-conscious measures to foster equality, the Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment resoundingly rejected the notion that the government could not take race into account in order to ensure equality of opportunity for all persons regardless of race.”

The brief written and filed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the National Education Association (NEA), the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and People For the American Way Foundation focuses more on Supreme Court precedent that has held education institutions have great leeway to direct their educational experiences.

For instance high court precedent has found that school officials are allowed to “fulfill their dual missions of instilling in all students ‘the values on which our society rests,’ and providing them with the skills and knowledge necessary to realize their full potential.”

The groups’ brief continues, “To accomplish those ends, educational institutions should be permitted to in certain narrowly limited circumstances to consider race and ethnicity when making educational policy judgments (ranging from school attendance zones to college admissions criteria) that affect composition of schools and classrooms.”

The groups tag opponents’ arguments as ridiculous, misleading and highly fantastical. The opponents, obviously living on a different planet, see no racial divisions or problems with segregated educational institutions worthy of being addressed by an increasingly multiracial society.

The advocates of inclusive admissions policy point to reams of studies that show our schools from coast to coast remain highly segregated and that the schools made up primarily of minorities are suffering great disadvantages, for that matter the schools that are isolated from diversity are also suffering.

These segregated schools continue to foster great inequalities, producing inadequate, unfair educational opportunities that have profound, often devastating impacts on African-American and Latino communities.

Thus institutions of higher education “confront a choice in making admissions decisions,” the groups argue. “They can ignore the persistent inequalities in the elementary and secondary school systems that segregate students by race, depriving all students of an education enriched by exposure to diversity. Or, they can take that reality into account in some limited and measured way by, for example, considering racial and ethnic background as one of many factors used in admitting a truly diverse student body.”

The high court, however, has drifted far rightward and shown an increasing hostility to protecting equality. The battle to save policies that promote equality, stronger educations, which at the end of the day lead to a stronger democracy, appears to be an uphill one. These groups, and many others, are trying to persuade the Roberts Court to rein in its rightist tendencies and leave universities’ admissions policies, like the one at the University of Texas, alone.

See the groups’ entire brief in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin here