University News

U. to support affirmative action in Supreme Court brief

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 6, 2012


The University plans to submit a brief to the Supreme Court by next year in favor of continuing the use of affirmative action in admission decisions, said Beverly Ledbetter, vice president and general counsel at the University. The planned brief is in response to a case brought by a student against the University of Texas at Austin that will be heard by the Supreme Court in its next term.

Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin is the first major Supreme Court case regarding affirmative action since the 2003 case of Grutter v. Bollinger which involved the University of Michigan. The University’s brief will support UT Austin, Ledbetter said. If the Court votes in favor of Fisher, the use of race in college admissions could be eliminated.

Abigail Fisher, a white student, sued UT Austin in 2008, alleging she was denied admission based on her race. The state of Texas upholds a “top 10 percent law,” which states that students in the top 10 percent of their graduating classes gain automatic eligibility for admission within the University of Texas system.

In 2003, Ledbetter co-wrote a brief on behalf of the University alongside general counsels from Harvard, the University of Chicago, Dartmouth, Duke University, Penn, Princeton and Yale in support of affirmative action. Though the Fisher case is different from the Grutter case, Ledbetter said the University’s views on affirmative action have not changed.

“Nothing has changed at Brown to change our position,” she said.

“Brown is committed to having a wide variety of students,” said Provost Mark Schlissel P’15

Administrators are closely following the case, but Schlissel said it is “far too early” to speculate on the court’s decision. The University understands the importance of diversity in education, he said.

“A lot of the learning here comes outside of the classroom,” Schlissel said. “The broader and more inclusive the voices, the greater the learning.”

Ledbetter said she finds it unlikely the decision would affect the University’s admission policies unless the Court reverses its 2003 decision.

“I don’t think anyone expects the court to abandon affirmative action,” Ledbetter said. “But they could tighten it.”

Ledbetter said she expects the new brief to be written by early 2013 by a group whose members will be similar to those who wrote the 2003 brief. Ledbetter expects a wide variety of opinions put forward from higher education sources and otherwise, she said. Harvard also expressed interest in submitting a brief favoring UT Austin, the Crimson reported Feb. 23. 

“All of academia is watching,” Schlissel said.

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