Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Eyes of Texas Cannot be Blind to Race

            At The University of Texas we are reminded that we’re Texas — what starts here changes the world.  Currently, our school is making a Texas sized impact on affirmative action admissions policies.  In oral arguments before the Supreme Court this week, UT’s policy to consider race as a factor among those students who were not automatically admitted under the Top Ten Percent Plan is being contested by Abigale Fischer, the petitioner alleging that the policy is unconstitutional and violates the Court’s 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger.
            Engaging in this constitutional debate requires the assumption that a rule forbidding all consideration of race can even be enforced.  If Grutter is overturned, will schools be forced to engage in race-blind admissions?  As a practical matter, this would require negating all cues of racial identity to prevent admissions officers from being influenced by race.  At a minimum, applications could not have identifying information such as the student’s name, their hometown, or their high school.  Involvement in extra curricular activities may even divulge racial identity if the student was involved in a minority association, or community service that might suggest an interest in helping one particular minority group.  Redacting this identifying information runs the risk of going further than making your admissions race-blind because admissions officers will now also be blinded to extra curricular efforts and holistic considerations or a student’s interests.

            Furthermore, admissions essays and personal statements would have to be eliminated entirely.  Universities ask students to write essays describing someone who has made an impact on their life, or discussing an issue of importance to the student.  These essays are designed to get to know the applicant and understand their background, life experience and perspective.  It is not surprising that most students chose to write about their cultural upbringing because these are the experiences that help forge a human being.  While race may not play a role in some people’s lives, for others race is a particularly pivotal.  Race cannot be the only factor considered in admission, but race-blind admissions would be completely impractical in today’s diverse society.

            The Deans of Harvard and Yale Law School recently joined in authoring an op-ed piece in the Washington Post where they agreed “that it is inconsistent with the dignity of persons to consider only race, we firmly believe that it is equally inconsistent with their dignity to refuse to hear what applicants have to tell us about the role that race has played in their lives.”  Higher education produces many of society’s future leaders and role models.  It is essential that these leaders learn in an intellectually diverse environment ripe with debate and multifaceted experiences.  Requiring law schools to turn a blind eye to race would not only be impractical, but it would stifle free intellectual discussion among students with varying cultures and experiences therefore doing a disservice to our universities as well as out society.

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