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The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Federal Court Unanimously Upholds University of Texas’ Equal Opportunity Admissions Policy

January 20, 2011 - Posted by Avril Lighty

In a significant victory for advancing equal opportunity in higher education, on January 18, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the constitutionality of University of Texas at Austin's (UT Austin) current admissions policy, which considers race as one of several factors.

The case, Fisher v. Texas, is the first federal appellate challenge to the Supreme Court's 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld that diversity is a compelling state interest.  The 5th Circuit’s decision affirms that UT Austin's policy is consistent with Grutter as it gives colleges and universities latitude to use race, as one of many factors in admissions, to promote diversity within their student bodies.

In its decision, the court said that "Grutter's structure accepts that a university's twin objectives of rewarding academic merit and fostering diversity can be complementary rather than competing goals; that students rising to the top of underrepresented groups demonstrate promise as future leaders.  These students' relative success in the face of harmful and widespread stereotypes evidences a degree of drive, determination, and merit not captured by test scores alone."

In recent years, Texas has been a hotbed for both advocates and opponents of equal opportunity admissions.  From 1996-2003, consideration of race in the public universities' admissions processes was deemed unconstitutional in Texas by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which resulted in a sharp decline of minority enrollment at Texas colleges and universities.  UT Austin's current holistic admissions policy was adopted following Grutter, and works in tandem with the Top Ten Percent state law, which guarantees admission to the state university system for high school students ranking in the top 10 percent of their graduating class.

"Our nation's future depends on students being exposed to diversity in their formative educational experiences," said John Payton, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (NAACP LDF).

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