Ryan Pakebusch | August 10, 2014
In the most recent decision announced by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in the Fisher v. University of Texas case, the University’s admission policy of “[using] race as part of a holistic admissions program” was upheld. UT Austin’s President, Bill Powers, soon followed with a press release as well a post to his blog Tower Talk celebrating this decision as it brings “the educational benefits of diversity while respecting the rights of all students.”1 While diversity can be supplemental to one’s education as it creates an environment promoting the exchange of ideas from people of all walks of life, UT Austin’s policy is achieving this in a most artificial way. The main objective of a university’s admissions should be admitting the best scholars, regardless of race. Basing a university’s admissions program on merit alone does not preclude diversity.
Furthermore, I must dissent with President Powers as the use of race in admissions disrespects the civil rights of students who are applying to UT Austin. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 under Section 703 (a) (Unlawful Employment Practices) states, “It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individuals of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex or national origin.”2 If this is law exists within one sector within the spectrum of employment in the United States, why is this not the case in admittance to public American universities? Students should be evaluated solely on their academic performance and application, not something they have no control over. It is impossible to quantify one race over another; it is a policy of preference over qualifications. If this nation truly believes in equal opportunity, our laws and our public university’s policies should reflect that idea.
I am cognizant of the social inequalities that have been reflected in our institutions and our entire nation historically and, the idea of ‘white privilege’ resonates with me in that some people are misled in believing only whites, or at least a super majority of whites, will make up UT Austin’s population and students of other races and ethnicities will be unrepresented without this policy. However, creating a tilted application program is not the solution to the problem of social inequality in education. Proponents of affirmative action claim that without affirmative action, few non-white students would be would be able to get into prestigious universities like the University of Texas at Austin or the University of California-Berkeley. In reality we see that a ban on affirmative action is irrelevant as a hindrance to non-white applicants. In fact for the first time in its history, the University of California System, even after banning affirmative action in 1996, admitted, this year, “more Latino applicants to its incoming freshman class than those who are non-Hispanic white.”3
While I’ve written against the practice of using race in admissions, I do offer alternatives that exist to achieve the goal of addressing social inequality. Something like a “strivers” admissions model that identifies students who post impressive achievements despite economic and cultural obstacles can be useful in overcoming the current usage of traditional affirmative action programs; admitting students based on how well they have handled adversity, whether this is due to their identity or background, is, in its own right, an indicator of future academic success. Moreover, I believe this all begins in our public schools and early education programs where all students should have equal access to the same resources and success programs in the classroom to prepare them for the work force, college, or anything post-high school. We need creative education experts at both the state and local level creating these programs, doing research on what works for student success and recognizing where and at what stage of development these programs are most needed.
Far too often, there have been disproportionately large amounts of money given to school districts which are already populated with students who are privileged economically while leaving smaller, more economically disadvantaged school districts to fight for scraps of state monies. In 2013, a state district court in Texas ruled that the way the state funds its public schools is unconstitutional, both because the money is insufficient and because it is not distributed fairly. This has led a bettering of our public schools in that our funding provides equal educational opportunities across the state rather than being preferential based on location. But even when you factor out the amount of money, the management of that money is what’s crucial to all students’ success. Conservatives like Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and Michael Quinn Sullivan, President and CEO of the anti-tax lobbying group Empower Texans, both agree with Sullivan in that “we need more money into the classroom… [not] more money period.”4 This is the responsibility of the school districts to appropriate money to offer the best opportunities for students and the citizens who vote for school board members that promote and uphold academic success of students the highest; it is everyone’s civic responsibility to address and resolve social inequality and educational issues as it affects all of our lives as Texans and Americans.
While this short post has only scratched the surface of the problems and solutions associated with social inequality in education, I hope it begins an open dialogue that brings forth creative ideas for achieving true equal educational opportunities. Texas legislators have an opportunity in the 2015 Legislative Session to reframe and reform our state’s education system to become one that is teeming with opportunities for social mobility without bending the Texas or United States constitution. If we are able to create more opportunities for students across Texas, regardless of race, religion, gender identity, national origin, or sexual orientation, then we can stop relying on this unconstitutional, preferential and unfair admissions practice.
1 Civil Rights Act of 1964. Section 703 (a) (1-2). http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/titlevii.cfm
2 Powers, Bill. Court Rules for UT Austin in Fisher case. Tower Talk. July 15th, 2014. http://blogs.utexas.edu/towertalk/2014/07/15/court-rules-for-ut-austin-in-fisher-case/
3 Anderson, Nick. UC’s experience with an affirmative action ban. The Washington Post. April 23, 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/ucs-experience-with-an-affirmative-action-ban/2014/04/23/d5a196aa-cb14-11e3-93eb-6c0037dde2ad_story.html
4 Smith, Tovia. Judge Rules Texas’ School-Funding Method Unconstitutional. NPR. Feb. 04, 2013. http://www.npr.org/2013/02/04/171113168/judge-rules-texas-school-funding-method-unconstitutional