A U.S. Supreme Court case pertaining to university admissions will not
significantly impact Texas Tech, an official said.
The Supreme Court questioned both sides in a case Wednesday about the University of Texas at Austin's use of race in college admissions.
The case, Fisher v. University of Texas, could lead to new limits on affirmative action.
The justices heard arguments in a challenge to the program from a white Texan who contends she was discriminated against when the university did not offer her admission in 2008.
Twenty-two-year-old Abigail Fisher, the Sugar Land native who sued the university, was among the hundreds of spectators at the arguments, according to The Associated Press.
Ethan Logan, Tech executive director of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, said Tech's assured admission process would be completely unaffected, and its holistic application review process would only be slightly impacted, if the court rules in favor of Fisher.
UT says its admissions program is necessary to provide the kind of diverse educational experience the high court has previously endorsed.
Along with race, the university considers community service, work experience, extracurricular activities, awards and other factors as it seeks to fill out its incoming classes. The bulk of its slots go to students who are admitted based on their high school class rank, without regard to race.
Logan said Tech's admission process has two thresholds.
The first, assured admission, is a combination of high school class ranking and test score -- either ACT or SAT.
The criteria is completely objective, he said, and none of the other information on the application is considered in this process. Any qualified student at a certain academic standing, regardless of background or location, will be admitted.
"I think it is a foundation for what a public institution should provide," Logan said. "We try to be as objective as we can about admission to support access."
The second threshold is an application review. Race can play a part in this process, Logan said.
It is optional for an applicant to provide information on his or her race and family financial status, Logan said.
Other sections are marked "required" on the applications, while these sections are not.
According to Tech's website, students who do not meet assured admission are evaluated holistically based on:
--Academic course selection
--Civic or other service activities
--Family educational background
--Special talents or awards
--Diversity of experience and background
Each applicant is reviewed by two professional staff members, who work individually, Logan said. If the decision is split, the application goes to an administrative committee.
Logan said Tech is growing its enrollment slowly and has not reached a capacity where denying students because of a limited capacity is a concern, like it is at UT-Austin.
"We've been able to maintain a constant, slow, exponential growth of enrollment, and purposefully. If we don't exceed capacity, we don't have to make a choice at denying students at a limited capacity," he said.
Opponents of UT's program say the university is practicing illegal discrimination by considering race at all, the AP reported.
The court's conservatives cast doubt on the program that uses race as one among many factors in admitting about a quarter of the university's incoming freshmen, according to the AP. The liberal justices appeared more supportive of the effort.
"What you're saying is what counts is race above all," Justice Anthony Kennedy said, according to the AP.
Arnold Loewy, George Killam professor of criminal law at Tech's School of Law, said if the court decides race can't count at all in university admissions, then UT may decide to fill its entire class with the top students throughout the state. He doesn't believe that's likely.
It's also plausible race becomes completely irrelevant at universities, Loewy said, but that's not likely either.
UT also could give more weight to students of poverty or low income, which would be reported as a non-race factor, he said.
"Assuming (the court) does nothing more than say, 'We have decided this question before. Race can not be the predominate factor; race can be a factor,' it won't make much difference at all. It will basically keep things the way they are."
Retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who wrote the majority opinion in a 2003 case, Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld the use of race in college admissions, attended the hearing, according to the AP.
Loewy said it's possible the court may question if it is time to stop using the prior decision because it's no longer necessary. He said O'Connor was a big believer that the use of race should be something not done indefinitely.
"It's very plausible the decision could come down and say Texas cannot use race because it uses the 10 percent (assured admission) rule," Loewy said. "The 10 percent rule is already designed to maximize diversity."
It is difficult to say an institution has reached diversity, Logan said.
Tech's goal is to be able to say graduates have the skills they need for the workforce, including being able to work with people of different backgrounds and geographic areas, he said.
"When we look at student life in a college environment, they're here for four years, sometimes five," Logan said. " ... Their interaction with peers and the student body on campus is an element where students are able to be exposed to other students who have different backgrounds, and not just race or ethnicity."
A decision should come by late June, according to the AP.
Tech's assured admission process will be completely unaffected either way the court rules, Logan explained.
If the court rules in favor of Fisher, he said, the optional race field on the university's application would be removed.
Tech would continue to provide equity of access by making sure the university contacts as many communities as possible, Logan said.
"Our commitment is to try to get out into all the communities in Texas," he said. " ... Our response, which has been an effective response to date, is to say that proactively our getting out into the community is how we've been successful. We would continue (that) regardless of the outcome of this case."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Source: This is the most recent fall/spring data from the Texas Tech Institutional Research website, which states the data is not certified.
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