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October 23, 2012

Fisher v. UT could affect U of C

The U of C filed an amicus brief with several other private universities last August in support of the University of Texas in the pending Supreme Court case Fisher v. University of Texas, which could end affirmative action policies in college admissions.

In the brief, which was co-authored by every school in the Ivy League and five other private universities, the schools argue that “racial and ethnic diversity are a distinct kind of difference in background, and reliance on such race-neutral measures alone cannot substitute for individualized, holistic review that takes account of race and ethnicity of the type approved of by Grutter [v. Bollinger],” a 2003 Supreme Court case that upheld 5-4 the use of affirmative action in university admissions, but maintained that using numerical racial quotas is unconstitutional.

Because the University receives funding through government grants and contracts, it is subject to federal anti-discrimination policies, according to University spokesperson Jeremy Manier. In the brief, the universities recognize that the Court’s decision could affect their admissions policies.

“Although Amici are private institutions, they are cognizant that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids institutions that receive federal funds from engaging in racial ‘discrimination,’ and so their ongoing efforts to attain diverse student bodies could be compromised by new limits this Court might place on state university admissions procedures,” the brief says.

According to a statement posted on the University’s news Web site in May, 42 percent of the matriculating students to the Class of 2016 were students of color, a record high for the U of C. Approximately half of the University’s 35.1 percent minority population is Asian, according to the University Registrar’s spring enrollment report.

It is not clear how the University’s population would change in response to a ruling in favor of Fisher.

Manier, speaking on behalf of Dean of College Admissions James Nondorf, said the U of C would “not speculate on the outcome or potential implications of this case.”

The University’s standing admissions policies are guided by a statement authored by President Robert Zimmer last year, according to Manier.

“We...celebrate our tradition of inclusion and recognize that our success as an institution depends on its ongoing renewal,” Zimmer said in the statement. “Diversity for the University is therefore particularly germane to our core perspective.”

Fisher v. University of Texas was brought to the Court by Abigail Fisher, a 22-year-old white woman who claims that she was rejected from the University of Texas at Austin because of her race. The University of Texas claims that Fisher would have been rejected from the school regardless of her race, and that using affirmative action in its admissions policies helps to create a diverse student body.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Fisher v. University of Texas earlier this month and will issue a decision next year.

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