Michael K. Frisby
Today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case maintains the opportunity for fairness and equity in college and university admissions. Those who believe in providing equal opportunities for our nation’s children recognize the importance of today’s outcome in ensuring, at least for now, that all capable students can pursue their dream of higher education. The Supreme Court’s ruling orders that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals apply a standard of “strict scrutiny” when examining a policy at the University of Texas that considers an applicant’s racial or ethnic background during the admissions process. The process the University of Texas has developed is a fair one, considering racial or ethnic backgrounds of qualified students along with academic success and other factors such as leadership, socioeconomic status and athletic or artistic skills and achievements.
The Supreme Court decision on Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin ordered the lower courts to use a tougher standard in scrutinizing the university’s admission’s policy, the same standard used previously in the Grutter and Bakke cases. Today’s ruling could have severely limited, or ended, affirmative action in higher education. Therefore, today’s far narrower ruling on a technicality should be seen as a victory for those who believe in providing equal opportunities for all Americans regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation.
The University of Texas’ admissions process looked beyond test scores to help mitigate the barriers that many students of color confront in a nation where from the moment they are born they may face conscious and unconscious biases based on the color of their skin. Throughout their lives, discrimination can adversely affect their housing, education, health and employment opportunities. All too often, children of color attend schools that have inadequate funding, that have lower quality teachers and outdated textbooks. Their parents can’t afford expensive classes to prepare for the SATs. The admissions process at the University of Texas addresses these disparities by helping qualified students overcome these obstacles and have the opportunity to pursue a college education, paving the way for a better life and brighter future.
At the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, we are committed to healing the profound gaps and inequities that exist in our country, by placing the health, education and well-being of children at the center of all we do. The majority of children born in America today are children of color. We support college admissions policies that identify qualified students of all races and provide them with equal opportunities to succeed. Research demonstrates that all students benefit when the learning environment is a diverse classroom, where students of different races, ethnicities and backgrounds together learn how to excel in the global economy.
Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before 200,000 to 300,000 people at the historic March on Washington, telling the crowd, “I Have a Dream” for freedom and equality. Much progress has been made towards achieving his dream. While we would have preferred a ruling broadly upholding affirmative action in higher education admissions, today’s Supreme Court ruling may help move our nation a step closer towards reaching Dr. King’s dream. Under the ruling, all Americans can still benefit from programs like the one run at the University of Texas at Austin.
About the W.K. Kellogg Foundation
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal pioneer, Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life.
WKKF is based in Battle Creek, Mich., and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special emphasis is paid to priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans; and internationally, are in Mexico and Haiti.