Brief in Fisher v. UT represents views of higher education community on key topic of diversity
ACE today is submitting an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the University of Texas at Austin (UT), urging the court to reaffirm the constitutionality of the university's use of race and ethnicity in its admissions process.
The brief, being filed today on behalf of the higher education community in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, argues that UT's narrowly tailored admissions plan is part of a holistic, applicant-by-applicant review designed to achieve the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.
ACE, long the coordinating body for all of American higher education, represents the views of nearly 2,000 college and university presidents and chancellors from all sectors, including public, private, two- and four-year institutions. In this role, ACE brought together a broad swath of higher education associations to argue on behalf of the compelling need for a diverse student body.
"Our country's higher education institutions are charged with the urgent mission of preparing students to work and live in an interconnected world that requires the ability to meet new and often unfamiliar challenges on a daily basis," said ACE President Molly Corbett Broad. "Offering students the lessons only a diverse campus can impart is a vital teaching tool that institutions must retain in order to equip students for success in their personal and professional lives."
Noting that the UT admissions process has been upheld by lower court rulings, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the ACE brief urges the Supreme Court to adhere to the precedent of its ruling in the 2003 University of Michigan affirmative action case, Grutter v. Bollinger.
In Grutter, the Supreme Court said an individualized, holistic review of each candidate for admissions was appropriate, even if it included race, to achieve the compelling state interest of increasing diversity in the student body. Any review that incorporates race must do so on an individualized basis, without applying a point value or adhering to any sort of quota.
The ACE brief argues that a core holding in Grutter remains valid: Universities can consider race or ethnicity as a "plus" factor in the context of individualized consideration of each and every applicant.
The brief also notes that the courts and other branches of government historically have deferred to higher education institutions' academic judgment in deciding how to pursue their missions and define the type of diversity that is needed on different types of campuses. The brief concludes that, "This Court should affirm the Court of Appeals, reaffirm Grutter, and protect colleges' and universities' freedom to pursue their respective missions."
"Courts have long recognized that diversity is a compelling interest in higher education and that individual institutions are in the best position to determine how to pursue that interest in service to their own educational objectives," said Ada Meloy, ACE general counsel. "The University of Texas undertakes a holistic, individualized consideration of its candidates for admission that takes into account a wide array of factors and also is precisely tailored to meet UT's goal of maintaining a diverse student body."
Both a trial court and an appellate court ruled for UT in this case. ACE submitted an amicus brief in support of UT to the Fifth Circuit in 2010. The federal appeals court in January 2011 decided in favor of UT, with the three-judge panel upholding the 2009 lower-court ruling that noted UT's plan closely follows the admissions process approved by the Supreme Court in the Grutter case.
Ensuring diversity in higher education is a core goal of ACE. In June, the ACE Board of Directors unanimously approved a resolution to preserve, support and enhance diversity on college and university campuses. This brief represents a continuation of these efforts.
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