UTexas admissions challenged

On April 7, a high school student filed a federal claim against the University of Texas–Austin that will bring the affirmative action debate back to the Supreme Court. The claim was that the plaintiff, a white female, was denied admission due to affirmative action policies and would have otherwise been granted admission to the college.

The plaintiff, Abigail Noel Fisher, graduated from her public high school in Richmond, Texas and was denied admission to University of Texas–Austin, which was her top choice, according to Inside Higher Ed.

The case, Fisher v. Texas, draws upon the 2003 Supreme Court decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, when the court upheld the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policy as used in rejecting a white female from the university.

However, unlike Michigan, the state of Texas already has some policies in place to avoid affirmative action policies.

The Texas House Bill 588, passed in 1997, grants all high school graduates in the top 10 percent of their graduating class entrance into the state school of their choice. The remaining candidates are considered for admission based on particular university policies.
The law targets segregated districts and communities, where the corresponding local high schools are made up of a concentration of minorities, thus allowing a diverse pool of admitted students.

The law was also a result of the highly debated Hopwood v. Texas case in 1996, in which the court upheld the affirmative action policies used in admission to the University of Texas School of Law.

However, while the percentage plan has been utilized at many universities in Texas, the plan is not without its critics.

Daniel Melamed, a first-year business administration major, is skeptical of the plan.
“My cousin lives in Texas and knows a lot of students that transfer to districts where a large group of minorities live so it would be easier for them to be in the top 10 percent of their class,” he said. “Prestigious colleges shouldn’t have to sacrifice their limited spots. If someone is qualified, they should be able to get in, regardless of race or gender.”

Michael Steidel, the director of Admissions at Carnegie Mellon, claims that many factors are considered for admission.

Steidel cited such factors as academics, leadership, community service, talents, abilities, as well as personal characteristics such as race, gender, and geography.

However, Steidel maintained that the most important issue to consider is whether or not a candidate has the academic background and credentials to be a successful student.
Robyn Dawes, the Charles J. Queenan, Jr. University Professor of Psychology, argued for a systematic approach to the admissions process.

“I believe there is a systematic way to incorporate affirmative action, without ignoring standard predictors, such as test scores and GPAs,” Dawes said. “Oftentimes minorities, because of their socioeconomic background, are at an academic disadvantage.”

Dawes pointed out that tests are often more advantageous to subsets of the population, such as certain races or ethnicities, due to their designs. An international student, for example, might not be able to correctly answer the same cultural test questions as an American-born citizen.

“One option for a systematic plan would be to have a predetermined cut score which would not invalidate the tests, and not hurt either groups [minorities nor majorities],” Dawes said, meaning that a test should have a set score required of students that is not influenced by students’ personal characteristics or backgrounds.

Carnegie Mellon’s admissions program has several initiatives to continue to attract large and diverse pools of applicants.

“Like all of our other programs, the sleeping bag weekend targets ethnically minority students, without being exclusive,” Steidel said.

Throughout the weekend, the administration shares how Carnegie Mellon values diversity, while utilizing student hosts from different backgrounds to participate in the activities, according to Steidel.

Dawes echoed Steidel in welcoming a more diverse student community to Carnegie Mellon.

“The students, regardless of their race or background, all benefit by dealing with culturally and ethnically different groups of people,” Dawes said.

Melamed appreciated the diverse community at Carnegie Mellon.

“I grew up in Jersey suburbs, and it wasn’t very diverse. I enjoy and want more diversity [at Carnegie Mellon], but I don’t think it should come at the expense of other kids who aren’t in the minority pool,” Melamed said. “Increasing diversity should be natural, not forced [through affirmative action]. If anything, it sets a bad example for the rest of our lives, beyond just the college admission process.”

Steidel agreed that diversity is and will remain a key issue for the university administration.

“CMU is a diverse place but there are certain areas that need attention. The core value of diversity is something we work hard to achieve on all levels, not just undergraduate, but also with the graduate students, faculty, and staff. We have no numerical goals, just a real focus on the community,” Steidel said.