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U.S. Supreme Court's Ruling on Affirmative Action in Higher Education

U.S. Supreme Court's Ruling on Affirmative Action in Higher Education

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court resolved in the University's favor the protracted litigation brought by student applicant Abigail Fisher against the University of Texas-Austin. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy declared that both public and independent institutions may lawfully take race (among other factors) into account in admitting students.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Steven Breyer, and Sonya Sotomayor joined without comment, while Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Chief Justice Roberts filed dissents.

The majority caution that a university may not invoke such an interest "without refinement" and must accept "the enduring challenge to our Nation's education system to reconcile the pursuit of diversity with the constitutional promise of equal treatment and dignity."

The long-term implications of this ruling are difficult to determine because this case analyzed admissions policies unique to one institution. However, the seemingly broad approval of carefully documented race-conscious policies like those of UT-Austin appear to validate comparably refined and documented diversity interests reflected in a broad range of other admission policies.

Issues for Institutional Leaders to Discuss with Their Boards

AGB recommends that institutional leaders, in concert with their boards, review current admissions policies and discuss the following:

  • Whether the policies meet their institutions' current and changing circumstances.
  • Whether the board or a designated committee should regularly receive reports from the chief executive and/or enrollment manager on recruitment/admissions issues.
  • Whether the admissions policy should be regularly assessed for potential legal and policy risks.
Read the full AGB Alert on this topic on our website.
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