Related: Civil & Human Rights, Education, In the Media, Political Issues, Social Issues, Social Justice Issues, Students

Is Affirmative Action Still Necessary?


The Supreme Court

On Wednesday of this week, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas, a case that may take a place in history beside the most notable civil rights cases.  Abigail Fisher claims that she was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin because she is white, and that the university’s use of racial preferences in admissions — affirmative action — is unconstitutional.  Texas denies Ms. Fisher’s claim, saying she would have been rejected regardless of the effect of the affirmative action policy; Ms. Fisher did go on to attend and graduate from Louisiana State University.

This case has already received considerable media coverage because of its potential to affirm or overturn previous Supreme Court precedents allowing some use of affirmative action in college admissions, most recently, the 2003 case known as Grutter v. BollingerLee Bollinger, who was then president of the University of Michigan and now at Columbia, co-authored with Stanford Education Dean Claude Steele a short but cogent essay on the controversy that summarizes the most important issues at stake.

The National Education Writers Association has a great website that explains the issues in this important case.

In a nutshell:  supporters of affirmative action in college admissions argue that achieving and maintaining a diverse student body is an important and legitimate educational goal, and using race-based preferences in a larger mix of factors influencing admissions decisions is a valid means to achieve the goal. Supporters point to the invidious effects of the long-term consequences of racism, particularly in failing urban schools where low income black students have disproportionate enrollment, as a basis for the continuation of affirmative action.  They also point to California, where a referendum abolishing affirmative action led to a precipitous decline in minority enrollment in the state universities.

Opponents argue that, while all of those goals may be valid and important, race may never be a factor in any admissions decision.  They cite the 14th Amendment’s protection of equal opportunity for all as the legal basis for insisting on race-neutral policies and practices.

I’ll be posting more material on this important case later today and this week.  I am particularly interested in receiving comments and hearing the opinions of the Trinity community on the provocative questions at the heart of this case:

Is affirmative action in education still necessary?

Is the use of racial preferences still necessary to ensure diversity at elite universities?

Are other methods, e.g., economic factors, equally effective?

Does the fact that Ms. Fisher subsequently did graduate from a fine university (LSU) nullify her claim?

Please post comments by using the link below, or send me an email at and let me know if it’s ok to post your thoughts.

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: