The Chronicle of Higher Education
April 18, 2008 Friday
A federal lawsuit filed last week accuses the University of Texas at Austin of improperly considering an applicant’s race when more-effective, race-neutral ways of achieving diversity were available.
The plaintiff, a white, 18-year-old applicant from Richmond, Tex., who was rejected by the university, filed the suit with the backing of the Project on Fair Representation, a Washington-based legal-defense fund that opposes affirmative action.
Edward J. Blum, the group’s director, said the student, Abigail Noel Fisher, was discriminated against because she is white. The lawsuit seeks to force the university to re-evaluate her application using race-neutral criteria and to stop considering race and ethnicity in undergraduate admissions decisions.
Since 1997, Texas law has guaranteed in-state applicants who are in the top 10 percent of their high school’s graduating class admission to any public university in the state. For several years before that, universities in Texas were banned from considering race in admissions under a federal appeals-court ruling known as Hopwood v. Texas.
That decision was superseded by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger, which gave colleges nationwide a green light to resume using race in admissions decisions but attached some conditions. One caveat held that colleges must first consider whether they could achieve the same results using race-neutral policies.
That is what Ms. Fisher’s lawsuit alleges that the University of Texas neglected to do in 2005, when it resumed using race-conscious admissions criteria, in addition to the top-10-percent formula.
Patricia C. Ohlendorf, the university’s vice president for legal affairs, said her office was reviewing the complaint. "We believe that our undergraduate admissions policies are well administered and in compliance with Supreme Court precedent and all other applicable law," she said in a written statement.