Law journals discuss court cases on diversity in the classroom

U.S. Supreme Court building.

U.S. Supreme Court building

Racial diversity on college campuses has had a lengthy judicial history. Several cases have upheld or struck down affirmative action used in college admissions policies. Law journals and civil liberties organizations are weighing in on the implications of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the affirmative action case Fisher v. University of Texas. Some, including an author in Vanderbilt Law Review, are still debating whether race should even be a factor in admissions policies and if diversity really does enhance a study body.

Historic Supreme Court cases on diversity on campus

The Supreme Court has had a history of varying opinions on the extent colleges can use race and affirmative action in achieving a diverse campus. The 1978 case Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the admission policy of the Medical School, which used different admission criteria for 16 seats reserved for non-white students.

In the 2003 case, Grutter v. Bollinger, the Supreme Court upheld University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action admissions policy. In that case, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor agreed that the school had a compelling interest in promoting class diversity, which would have educational benefits.

Fisher v. University of Texas

The Fisher v. University of Texas, two white women claimed they were not admitted to the school because the school violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by using affirmative action.

Defending its admissions practices, the university argued that having a racially diverse campus enhances the learning experience for all and fosters positive race relations. It said it had a “compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits of diversity…[and to] attempt to promote cross-racial understanding, break down racial stereotypes, enable students to better understand persons of other races, better prepare students to function in a multicultural workforce, cultivate the next set of national leaders, and prevent minority students from serving as spokespersons for their race,” as reported in “Divisive Diversity at the University of Texas: An Opportunity for the Supreme Court to Overturn Its Flawed Decision in Grutter,” by Joshua P. Thomson and Damien M. Schiff in Texas Review of Law & Politics, Spring 2011 found on Questia.com.

In Texas, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the university’s use of race as one factor in its admissions policy is constitutional. When the case was brought to the U.S. Supreme Court, on June 24, 2013 the justices in a 7-1 vote, did not make a decision on affirmative action, but rather vacated the Fifth Circuit Court’s decision and remanded the case for further consideration. At least the Court did not end affirmative action, as some civil rights groups feared.

Does diversity enhance a student body?

All these cases beg the question: Is diversity on campus beneficial to students? In one study, University of Maryland assistant professor Julie J. Park analyzed nearly 15,000 students from the University of California at Los Angeles Higher Education Research Institute. In “Class Diversity in Higher Education: A Complement, But Not a Replacement, for Race” on HuffingtonPost.com July 8, 2013, Park reports that her research “revealed that students interacted more with peers of other races at universities with more class diversity. Students who attended more socioeconomically diverse institutions were more likely to interact across class lines, and interacting across class lines was associated with greater interaction across racial groups.”

Does diversity even matter?

The issue of colleges promoting a diverse student population may even be moot. With America’s rapid demographic change and with the demand for access to higher education rising, colleges and universities are by momentum admitting more non-white students. In 1980, whites were 83% of the undergraduate population, but by 2010 whites were 62%.

But Tomiko Brown-Nagin warns in “The Diversity Paradox: Judicial Review in an Age of Demographic and Educational Change,” in Vanderbilt Law Review July 23, 2012, “The multicolored array of students that results does not necessarily engage in sustained cross-racial contact on campus. Meaningful relationships develop—if they materialize at all—as a result of cultivation by administrators. If left to their own devices, students tend to congregate among people like themselves.”

For more information on court cases involving race, diversity and college admissions, visit the Law page and the Trials section on Questia.com.

What is your opinion on affirmative action and using race as a factor in admissions?

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