Issue Brief #2

Issue Briefs

Issue Brief 2: Fisher vs. Texas Supreme Court Ruling (June 8, 2013)

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The purpose of this issue brief is to establish consistent messaging and response to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on Fisher vs. Texas.

The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) is expected to issue a decision in Fisher v. University of Texas by the end of June 2013. The case challenges a University of Texas affirmative action admissions plan that considers race as a factor. At University of Texas, most undergraduate slots are filled by a plan that guarantees a spot to the top 10 percent of graduates of Texas high schools. The remaining slots, approximately 19 percent of the total spaces, are filled through a plan that considers race, among other factors, to promote diversity.

Abigail Fisher, who is Caucasian, applied for admission to the university. She was not in the top 10 percent of her class, and she did not receive one of the remaining slots. Her case challenges that she was a victim of discrimination based on her race in violation of the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause. Both the federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the Texas plan.

Before SCOTUS, Fisher's lawyer disclaimed any interest in having the justices reverse their 2003 decision, Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld the limited use of affirmative action at the University of Michigan Law School. Grutter gives universities the right to seek "critical mass," or meaningful numbers, of minority students. Opponents call it a "quiet quota" that reopens a previously closed door on strict racial quotas.

Instead, he asked the court to strike down the university's use of race to fill the remaining slots and to clarify that it goes beyond the very narrow circumstances in which race may be taken into account.

The court's re-examination of race in admissions issues in this case raises the prospect that it could reconsider key principles of relevant nondiscrimination law as it affects college admissions practices, considered long settled.

Media Spokespersons
The official university spokespeople for this issue are listed below. Please direct all media inquiries regarding this matter to Katie Lawson for triage and response.

  • Barbara Gill, Assistant Vice President, Office of Undergraduate Admissions

  • Shannon Gundy, Director, Office of Undergraduate Admissions

  • Wallace Loh, President

  • Kumea Shorter-Gooden, Chief Diversity Officer

  • Katie Lawson, Chief Communications Officer

Response Guidance
There are several possible outcomes in the Fisher case. The key messages below outline the university"s initial response. The court's ruling and intent will need to be carefully assessed before elaborating on specific adjustments (if any) that will be made to the admissions policy.

Media Statement (attributed to Dr. Loh)
"The University of Maryland remains rock solid in its commitment to the broadest diversity of our students, faculty and staff. Diversity is a core institutional value and one of our greatest strengths. It is not merely a duty, but an advantage that will help our students succeed in an increasingly diverse workplace and global community. UMD's ascendancy has paralleled the rise of our diversity.

We will carefully digest the Supreme Court's ruling and determine the most effective, lawful paths in pursuit of our diversity commitment—a policy that is both morally right and educationally sound."

Key Messages

  • We will carefully digest today's ruling and determine the most effective and lawful paths to maintain our commitment to diversity. UMD's policies are founded on the premise that affirmative action is an affirmative benefit to the entire university community.

  • Diversity is a core value and key to achieving UMD’s mission and strategic goals. The diversity of our faculty, students and staff is one of our greatest strengths and a major contributor to our academic excellence.

  • Our admissions process is holistic, and the evaluation process considers 26 factors, including race. We work very hard to admit and enroll the most talented, diverse and interesting students possible. Our approach looks at the complete individual to consider whether they will thrive and what they'll contribute to our great institution.

  • Simply stated, students need to interact in a diverse environment to succeed in an increasingly diverse workplace and global community.

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