By David Maly, Guest Reporter
A panel of experts convened at UT Wednesday to discuss the positive potential of affirmative action admission policies — exactly one week before UT will defend the constitutionality of the practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.
During the panel, which was organized by the Public Affairs Alliance for Communities of Color, four legal experts explained why affirmative action is necessary at UT and other public universities nationwide in order to preserve diversity and create a more exceptional student body. The event was scheduled to show and increase support for the university leading up to the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin lawsuit, which challenges the constitutionality of UT’s use of affirmative action in admissions and would set a national precedent that would apply to other entities nationwide. The nine justices will hear oral arguments for the case Oct. 10.
Remember what Sarah Palin said, ‘Don’t retreat. Reload.' I think that’s good advice for her to give conservatives, but it’s also good advice for people who support affirmative action. We should reinvigorate our commitment to a struggle that continues.
Speaking at the event were Leonard Moore, associate vice president of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement; UT law professor Lino Graglia; public affairs professor Edwin Dorn; and Thomas Mariadason, an attorney for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, an organization that has filed a brief supporting the University in the case.
Mariadason and the other panelists explained the specific benefits of affirmative action throughout the event.
“We’re losing a lot of diversity that will really compromise the ability of top-end institutions to create the best learning environment possible,” Mariadason said. “Diversity considerations improve student life. They break down racial barriers.”
Mariadason said affirmative action helps to create a more diverse student body, teaching students how to better interact with those from other cultures, ultimately making students of all races more successful.
Currently, UT only uses affirmative action when considering undergraduate applicants who are not automatically admitted. Per Texas law, the university is required to accept up to 75 percent of its incoming freshman class based solely on their class rank at Texas high schools. The class rank cut-off for admissions is currently set at 8 percent, but has fluctuated between 8 and 10 percent in recent years.
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Abigail Fisher, the white student who filed suit against UT after being denied admission in 2008, the 75 percent cap on students automatically admitted to the university would be lifted, and UT would legally have to accept up to 100 percent of its incoming undergraduate class under the automatic-admissions process, University spokesperson Gary Susswein said.
The panelists expressed their concern over this, as it would force the University to further ignore many factors that evidence a student’s ability.
“What about musicians, actors and athletes,” Dorn asked. “Grades don’t tell the whole story. You also want leaders.”
Currently the University uses a holistic review process when evaluating applicants not accepted through the automatic-admissions process. The process looks at three categories: academic achievement, personal achievement and special circumstances. Included in the special circumstances category is race and ethnicity, along with seven other factors.
Susswein said if Fisher wins the case and the use of affirmative action is declared unconstitutional, he expects to see a lot of discussion concerning the legislature and legislation they could pass to preserve the still-constitutional parts of the holistic process.
The panelists also addressed the key arguments against the use of affirmative action at the panel, including the stance that affirmative action is in the best interest of racial minorities.
Dorn said the argument has been made that by grouping students with members of their own race, they will feel more comfortable and ultimately be more successful.
“No argument is more offensive to me,” he said.
Dorn said he sees this argument as an attempt to increase social discrimination and no matter what happens in the Fisher case, he encourages advocates for racial minorities to continue with their efforts.
“Remember what Sarah Palin said, ‘Don’t retreat. Reload,’” Dorn said. “I think that’s good advice for her to give conservatives, but it’s also good advice for people who support affirmative action. We should reinvigorate our commitment to a struggle that continues.”
More than 70 briefs have been filed in support of the University in this case from entities including the U.S. government, 17 United States Senators, the state of California and 444 American social sceince researchers. More than 15 briefs have been filed in support of Fisher from entities including the Texas Association of Scholars and the Center for Individual Rights.