As you probably know, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments this m
orning in a closely watched affirmative action case that could have epic consequences for the way colleges and universities consider race in admissions.
The overwhelming majority (80 percent) of the kids who got into UT-Austin in ’08 did so via the Ten Percent Plan. The rest got in through a formula that the University of Texas uses to take a “holistic” look at specific student’s story: “the socio-economic status of the applicant’s family; the socio-economic status of the applicant’s high school; whether the applicant is from a single-parent home; whether a language other than English is spoken at home; family responsibilities; and the applicant’s SAT score compared to the average score of the applicant’s high school.” Race is considered here, too.
After the files of the non-top-10% applicants are scored, they are plotted on a matrix for the school or major for which admission is sought, with the Academic Index on one axis and the Personal Achievement Index on the other. After considering the number of students in each cell and the available spaces for a particular major, admissions officers draw a stair-step line on the matrix, dividing the cells of applicants who will be admitted from those that will be denied. For each cell, admission is an all-or-nothing proposition: all the applicants in a cell are either admitted or denied.
Which brings us to Abigail Fisher, the petitioner in this case, who says that she was not granted entry to UT-Austin because she’s white, and that UT’s policy violates the Constitution because it considers race. (There was a second petitioner originally, but she dropped out of the case.) Fisher, who has since graduated from Louisiana State, applied to UT-Austin for fall 2008, with a high school GPA of 3.59 and an SAT score of 1180 out of 1600. Okay scores, but not spectacular.
UT said in its amicus brief that the given how competitive the ’08 freshman class was, Fisher “would not have been admitted even if she had received ‘a ‘perfect’ PAI score of 6.’” Fisher was also denied entry to UT’s (since-scuttled) sumer program, which gave provisional admission to kids who were denied outright if they completed certain academic requirements over the summer. The school said that one black kid and four Latin@ kids with Academic Index/Personal Achievement Index scores that were the same or lower than Fisher’s were admitted to the summer program, but so were 42 white kids with identical or lower schools. “In addition, 168 African-American and Hispanic applicants in this pool who had combined AI/PAI scores identical to or higher than petitioner’s were denied admission to the summer program,” the university wrote. [Emphasis theirs.]
So here’s my question for the legal types (separate from the constitutionality of UT’s admissions process): could someone break down for me how Fisher has legal standing to bring this suit? Is it clear that she has a redressable grievance?