With the U.S. Supreme Court reviewing a case on Affirmative Action today, many universities across the U.S. may have to change admissions procedures if the court finds the program unconstitutional.
CSU will not be one of them.
According to Vice President of Diversity Mary Ontiveros, previous cases threatening Affirmative Action have led the university to avoid admissions policies impacted by the John F. Kennedy-era program.
“As a university, we have been incredibly diligent about looking at what we have in place in the event that the law passes we’re not playing catch up,” Ontiveros said. “Given that, we’re really in a good position.”
The court will be hearing the case of Fisher v. Texas that could rule Affirmative Action in higher education admissions processes unconstitutional.
Abigail Fisher applied to the University of Texas in 2008 and was denied admission. The institution implemented a system of allowing the top 10 percent of high school graduating classes in the state of Texas automatically.
According to Courtenay Daum, a CSU political science professor, the UT–Austin re-implemented Affirmative Action in their admissions process to promote diversity by further evaluating applicants that are independent from the 10 percent automatically allowed.
“Her argument was that the problem with the university’s policy is that they are using the 10 percent rule then supplementing that with the other policy. And that you can’t have that in effect, because it is discriminatory to white students by additionally considering race and ethnicity,” Daum said.
Cases that dealt with Affirmative Action were heard by the court in 1978 and 2003, with many more opportunities arising throughout the years.
With Fisher v. Texas, less than 10 years later, Daum said that the court wants to say something significant about Affirmative Action.
“The really weird thing is that she’s graduating college and the fact that the Supreme Court is willing to hear the case suggests that they are going to revisit Affirmative Action,” Daum said.
Higher education institutions will be keeping a watch on the case as it develops.
“The definition of diversity has changed. Schools will continue to value diversity because they do believe it benefits the classroom,” Daum said.
Affirmative Action has been reconsidered in the past.
CSU started altering their procedures and language in their admissions process when Ontiveros was the director of admissions. At that time, Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar declared that race and ethnicity could not be used in admissions decisions.
In response, CSU looked at policies and procedures and determine technicalities for admissions, programs and scholarships that catered just to people of color or women or individual groups and made sure that did not violate the new policy.
“For example, Black Issues Forum, even though its called Black Issues Forum, all students are welcome and we have have non-black students participate in that activity because they want to know about issues related to the black community,” Ontiveros said.
The Alliance High School Partnership program is a CSU program that was developed in 2007 to promote diversity without specifically addressing race and ethnicity and a targeted population.
The program actively reaches out to 10 high schools in Colorado, to give more opportunities for students in the state to pursue a college education and to promote diversity in the classroom to bring different perspectives into classes.
“The 10 high schools were chosen they have the highest free and reduced lunches, there’s an economic component here,” said Patricia Vigil, director of University Partnerships and Student Success. “They do have a significant number of racially diverse students. And we see that in most schools now since demographics are increasing.”
By choosing these schools, racial, socioeconomic and geographic (rural and urban) diversity is considered. First-generation students –– who would be the first in their families to graduate from college –– are also included.
“We want to encourage them to go on to college. Not necessarily CSU, but on to college,” Vigil said.
Vigil believes that if any negative outcomes come of the most recent Affirmative Action case, it will not affect the AHSP program.
“We work with schools, we don’t work for particular ethnicities,” Vigil said. “Part of what has to happen is seeing what the ruling is by the court, it should not affect us. Our focus is not on race or ethnicity and not fully on gender. Not focused on one particular group, it’s a whole entity, it’s a school.”
In the end, Daum believes that there are five justices who may be willing to rule against Affirmative Action policies, but it comes down to Justice Anthony Kennedy.
“Both sides will make their case, their legal arguments. Then the justices go and do a secret vote and tentatively decide opinions … I would not expect to have this resolved until June,” Daum said.
Diversity Beat and Entertainment Reporter Bailey Constas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.