Justices should uphold key precedent in UT case

by DallasNews  Editorial

Like many around the state, we closely followed the Supreme Court hearing Wednesday about the use of race in college admissions at the University of Texas at Austin. The high-profile case centers on whether UT and other colleges can use an applicant’s race as one of several factors in admissions decisions.

After listening to the debate, we believe the justices should allow UT to continue this practice in decisions regarding students who don’t finish in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Here’s why:

UT’s lawyer compellingly presented evidence of how the campus benefits from a diverse student body. Students are exposed to a broader world — and thus develop deeper understandings — by mixing with others who don’t share their background, including their race.

UT also persuasively argued that its plan closely tracks admissions policies that the court considered acceptable as recently as 2003. Justices at that time embraced diversity as a larger good for universities to pursue. To rule against UT now would require the court to overturn that precedent, which is a practice that Chief Justice John Roberts previously has said he is hesitant to adopt.

UT and its numerous business, military and academic supporters have another strong point on their side: States need universities producing diverse leaders. Businesses and other institutions need college graduates from all walks of life. For this reason, The Dallas Morning News has long agreed that while race should not be the factor, it should be one of several considerations in admissions policies.

Kenneth Jastrow, a UT grad who once headed the Temple-Inland packaging company, made this point in a Texas Tribune piece: “Diverse leaders are better able to understand, anticipate and penetrate diverse markets. As the world shrinks, the need for diverse leaders grows even more acute.”

Roberts did raise a question worthy of more discussion: At what point do schools develop a “critical mass” of diversity?

The 2003 case held that a “critical mass” of diversity is a legitimate need, but the justices left it up to universities to define that term.

UT’s lawyer explained that the school uses surveys and other measures to assess campus diversity and its impact. But he couldn’t provide a quantitative answer because using numbers to define “critical mass” would be equivalent to offering racial quotas — something the court bars.

We hope Roberts understands the limits placed on UT’s ability to respond to his legitimate question. It is one that applies to hiring decisions as well: When should race no longer be considered a factor?

The sooner the better — but the nation has not yet reached that point. Texas’ population is a prime example of America’s changing demographics, and that diversity must find its way into our schools and other institutions.

UT admissions policies

•75 percent are admitted through the state law that grants automatic acceptance to UT for Texans who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school classes.

•Remaining 25 percent are picked through a “holistic” system, in which race, among other factors, is considered.

•Plaintiff Abigail Fisher says the “holistic” process discriminated against her as a white student whom UT did not admit.

This article appeared on the Dallas News

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