Supreme Court decision highlights diversity

Trey Crumbie

A Supreme Court decision ruled over the summer involving affirmative action may not directly affect WKU, but one administrator said the university needs to be careful in choosing who is and who isn’t admitted to the school and for what reasons.

On June 24, the Supreme Court issued their ruling in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case that involved a female student who was denied admission to University of Texas, she claims, based on her race. The student, Abigail Fisher, in response filed a lawsuit against the university stating her academic and extracurricular credentials, and not her race, should have been the means by which her admission was determined.

The concept of affirmative action aims to help represent underrepresented groups in both education and in the workplace.

The Supreme Court ultimately sent the case back to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals because of a misinterpretation of UT’s acceptance criteria that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals made during their earlier decision.

Richard Miller, chief diversity officer, said the central factors of the case are the roles diversity plays in college admissions, particularly when it comes to race. He said the decision has indirectly said race can be a factor in college admissions, but cannot be the sole factor and must serve a “compelling governmental interest.” In addition to this, “race neutral” acceptance alternatives must first be considered.

Miller said WKU has to be careful when not admitting students. He said it cannot be based on factors such as race, gender, religion or their immigration status.

“It’s based upon criteria that we’ve applied across the board,” Miller said, such as GPA or ACT scores.

WKU has a Diversity Enhancement Committee whose goals include “assisting in efforts to increase the recruitment, retention and graduation of minority students,” according to a letter from President Gary Ransdell on the organization’s website.

The Diversity Enhancement Committee also has a diversity plan, which Miller said includes multiple factors.

“We have broadened our definition of diversity to include more than just race,” Miller said of the definition that also includes gender, national origin, immigration status and sexual orientation.

Jeffrey Budziak, assistant professor of political science, said he believes the Supreme Court decision was a reasonable one, but ultimately a short term political compromise.

“It clearly is a decision that was motivated at avoiding the larger, more difficult question that still exists,” Budziak said. “Which is, how strongly can universities take race into account when admitting students to both undergraduate and graduate school?”

Saundra Ardrey, head of the department of political science, said she disagrees with the decision. She believes attention needs to be brought to other kinds of affirmative action, such as student applicants with “legacy” status, which she said is mostly reserved for white students.

“That’s a form of affirmative action, but that’s affirmative action for the dominant group, for the privileged group, and nobody discusses that,” Ardrey said.