Fisher to be heard Oct. 10

MIT & others cite necessity of diversity in brief

Last Monday, Aug. 13, MIT and 13 peer institutions filed an amicus curiae brief before the Supreme Court of the United States in Fisher v. University of Texas, supporting the respondent UTexas in the view that race could be used as one of many factors in a holistic admissions process.

The brief was filed jointly with Brown University, University of Chicago, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Duke University, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt University, and Yale University.

Fisher v. Texas was brought before the U.S. District Court in 2008 by Abigail N. Fisher, a white applicant who declared the University of Texas at Austin’s admissions policy unconstitutional after being denied admission. The district court upheld the university’s decision, citing the 2003 case Grutter v. Bollinger, in which the Supreme Court upheld the affirmative action admissions policy of the University of Michigan Law School in a 5-4 vote. Fisher has since then brought her case to the Supreme Court, where it will be decided by an eight-member Court on October 10, 2012. Justice Elena Kagan, who had previously played some role in the case as a U.S. Solicitor General, withdrew from the case, according to SCOTUSblog.

There have been 73 amicus curiae briefs submitted in support of Texas, 17 in support of Fisher, and 2 in support of neither party, in the case that will be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

Support for Texas

MIT and the 13 peer institutions’ amicus curiae brief warned that “a decision questioning or repudiating the principles in [Grutter v. Bollinger] could significantly impair [their] ability to achieve their educational missions.”

These institutions state that they “recognized long ago that admissions by purely numerical factors such as grade-point averages and standardized test scores would not effectively accomplish their broader educational missions.”

“MIT is committed to ensuring that our student body reflects a robust diversity, enriching our rigorous learning environment and helping prepare future leaders for a complex and heterogeneous nation and world,” said President L. Rafael Reif to the MIT News Office.

Dean of Admissions Stu Schmill ’86 and Emma J. Teng, MIT Committee on Race and Diversity co-chair and Foreign Language and Literatures associate professor, both emphasized to the MIT News Office the importance of having a “richly diverse student body” and “ensuring that students of all backgrounds have access to education.”

In addition, a “Brief of Social and Organizational Psychologists” was submitted in support of the respondents and signed by 13 psychologists, including Evan P. Apfelbaum, a MIT Sloan assistant professor and social psychologist. The brief argues that “social science studies show that diversity leads to a more vibrant and productive workforce and civic life,” with diversity in higher education being “a compelling interest.” As such, the brief concludes that the holistic admissions process of the University of Texas is specifically designed and necessary to “achieve its compelling diversity interest.”

The Obama Administration has also submitted a brief supporting Texas, stating that affirmative action in admissions was necessary to achieve “enhanced classroom discussion, decreased racial isolation, a robust exchange of ideas, exposure to differing cultures, preparation for the challenges of an increasingly diverse workforce, and acquisition of competencies required of future leaders.”

Support for Fisher

Among the briefs submitted in support of Fisher was one from the 80-20 National Asian-American Educational Foundation and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, which contained references to MIT. The brief, arguing against using race as a factor in college admissions, cited an incident in which “an MIT dean of admissions speculated that the application ‘looked like a thousand other Korean kids with the exact same profile of grades and activities and temperament.’”

The brief expressed that, because of such statements of preferring not to admit “yet another textureless math grind,” high school guidance counselors have had to distinguish Asian-American students with recommendations like “Rachel, for an Asian, has many friends,” according to Inside Higher Ed.

It also cites as background a May 1918 Association of New England Deans meeting addressing the “rapid increase in the ‘foreign element,’ [where] the deans of Tufts, Bowdoin, Brown, and MIT all expressed concern about the growing number of Jews.”

In providing similar stories, this particular brief supporting Fisher argues that: “(1) race frequently plays a decisive factor in college admissions, most greatly disadvantaging fully-qualified Asian-American students; (2) the pretexts employed to limit Asian-American school enrollment are indistinguishable from those utilized to impose quotas against Jews throughout much of the past century; and (3) the Court should not defer to state officials in matters relating to racial discrimination.”

Because Kagan stepped out of the case, the Supreme Court decision could come to a 4-4 ruling, which would uphold the University of Texas’ admissions policy.