Diversity Lives to See Another Day

On June 24, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a challenge to the University of Texas at Austin's flexible combination of race-neutral and race-conscious criteria in pursuing a diverse student body. Although the Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court for further assessment of UT Austin's admissions program, the Supreme Court's opinion supports the ability of colleges and universities to consider race and ethnicity among many other factors in a narrowly tailored admissions program. In Grutter v. Bollinger, a previous Supreme Court case addressing the University of Michigan Law School's consideration of race in its admissions process, the Court conclusively determined that a university has a compelling interest in attaining a diverse student body to advance its educational mission. This principle was preserved by the Court in Fisher.

UT Austin's admissions policy bears all the hallmarks of the race-conscious admissions program sanctioned in Grutter: it does not rely on quotas, but instead employs race as part of its holistic, individualized evaluation of applicants; the University seriously and in good faith explored race-neutral alternatives prior to adopting its race-conscious policy; and the University's admissions policy contains a formal review every five years. UT Austin has created a fair, open process that relies primarily on a host of race- neutral initiatives, namely scholarship programs, recruitment and targeted outreach to students in underrepresented areas, partnerships between colleges and low-performing schools, and the Top Ten Percent Plan. In fact, the Top Ten Percent Plan -- a race-neutral plan -- accounted for ninety percent of the University's admissions when Abigail Fisher applied to the University. The University only uses its race-conscious policy to supplement these race-neutral measures in order to arrive at an admissions process that allows talented students from all backgrounds to get an opportunity to overcome obstacles to educational opportunity.

All Americans should view the Supreme Court's decision in Fisher as a victory. Creating diverse and inclusive educational environments benefits all students and the country as a whole. The Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized the paramount educational benefits that flow from a diverse classroom. In discussing the importance of broad-ranging diversity, former Justice O'Connor stressed the importance of "cross-racial understanding" and classroom discussions that are "livelier, more spirited, and simply more enlightening and interesting" because of the existence of diversity in and outside of the classroom. Diversity begets a richer learning environment, where each student's varied experiences result in a robust exchange of ideas. Moreover, diversity in our institutions of higher education is critical to developing a workforce that is prepared to compete in the global economy, where the ability to engage with people from diverse backgrounds is critical. That is one reason why diversity in high education is supported by so many major corporations, educators, small business owners and military leaders.

With the Supreme Court's opinion in Fisher, talented and bright students from all backgrounds, including different racial and ethnic backgrounds, will get a fair opportunity despite, as Justice Ginsburg articulated in the opinion, "the lingering effects of an overtly discriminatory past" and "centuries of law-sanctioned inequality." That is good news for every American.