The panel debate heated up when Trevor Burrus, research fellow at the Cato Institute, said institutions that employ affirmative action plans generally accept candidates who may not be prepared for college. Many in the audience, which included several Harvard alumni, grumbled, and the other panel members disagreed.
“No institution wants to admit students who cannot keep up in their classes,” said Greg Grauman, director of admissions at American University. He said the admissions process is mostly about test scores and grades, but merit and a holistic review process—including race, socioeconomic status, and extracurricular activities—are important too. Shirley Wilcher, executive director of the American Association for Affirmative Action, also added that the most selective schools report the lowest minority dropout rates.
Wilcher said that while African Americans are still a minority in many classrooms and boardrooms, they should be steadfast in their pursuit of success. “Hope that the next generation will have more company and (will be able to) achieve the goals that we are working for,” she told him. She punctuated this point, to laughs from the audience, with a quote from Colin Powell: “Get your opportunity and then hire a psychologist if you have a problem.”
The Fisher case began in 2008, when Abigail Fisher applied to the University of Texas at Austin and was denied acceptance. The university accepts all students in the top 10 percent of each Texas high school’s graduating class, and then uses a holistic review process to admit applicants who fall outside of that 10 percent. Fisher, denied under the holistic review process which includes race as one of many factors, filed suit claiming that the university violated her rights by treating her differently because she was white.
The panel members agreed that the Supreme Court decision on this case would likely be complicated. Grauman mentioned that even if use of race as a factor is outlawed, schools would find ways to work around this by using socioeconomic status instead or recruiting more heavily at particular high schools. It is important for colleges to consider diversity somehow in admissions, he explained, to ensure that students “see themselves in the community.” Wilcher believes that it will be far too controversial to completely get rid of race as a consideration in admissions.
A final decision by the Supreme Court is expected in June.
Meredith Rosenberg, guest blogger, is a teacher at a charter school in Washington D.C. She can be reached at mrosenberg75(at)gmail(dot)com.