WASHINGTON, D.C. — The University of Texas at Austin argued before the United States Supreme Court today that all students — and the nation as a whole — benefit when colleges and universities are able to assemble truly diverse student bodies.
UT Austin defended its admissions process in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. That process considers an applicant's race and ethnicity as one of many factors in a limited manner that is consistent with Supreme Court precedents and necessary, the university argued, to meet the compelling interest in the educational benefits of diversity.
"UT prepares tomorrow’s leaders for a world that is increasingly global and interconnected. It’s vital that our students have the opportunity to work with students from different backgrounds and experiences — and the freedom to learn from the myriad perspectives, viewpoints and ideas that should flourish on campus," UT Austin President Gregory L. Fenves said after the hearing.
"Colleges and universities across the nation have long been addressing questions surrounding race and ethnicity. The heightened attention on these issues over the past few months highlights their ongoing importance. Our defense in the Fisher case underscores UT’s commitment to fostering a diverse campus."
The case was argued for the university by former U.S. Solicitor General Greg Garre, currently partner and global chair of Latham and Watkins Supreme Court and Appellate Group. The U.S. solicitor general also argued for the United States on the university's behalf.
The university was supported before the arguments by more than 65 amicus briefs from retired generals, admirals and other military leaders, Fortune 500 corporations, higher education institutions, NCAA coaches, social scientists and civil rights groups, among others.
About 75 percent of UT Austin’s incoming freshman class consists of students from across Texas who, by law, are automatically admitted by graduating near the top of their high school classes.
To complement Texas’ automatic admissions law, the university also admits a segment of the class through a holistic process. It considers applicants’ academic performances as well as other diverse factors including extracurricular accomplishments, socioeconomic backgrounds, hardships overcome, special talents and race and ethnicity.
The plaintiff in the Fisher case, Abigail Fisher, claims she was denied undergraduate admission in 2008 because she is white. The university argued that the record does not support her claim, that Fisher does not have standing to continue to pursue the case, and that the university's holistic admissions process considers race in a limited manner consistent with prior Supreme Court rulings. Those rulings also recognized the compelling interest in the educational benefits of diversity.
During the past six years, multiple courts have upheld UT Austin's policy.
The Supreme Court first heard the Fisher case in 2012 and remanded it back to the appeals court to review evidence that the university’s policy is narrowly tailored to obtain the educational benefits of diversity. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals did so and, in 2014, again upheld the university’s narrow use of race in admissions.
When Texas was prevented by a 5th Circuit opinion in another case, Hopwood v. Texas, from considering race in admissions, which occurred from 1998 to 2004, student diversity, especially among African Americans, dropped.
"We are hopeful the Supreme Court will reach the same conclusion as the lower courts and enable all of our students to receive the full educational benefits of diversity," Fenves said.
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