[Editorial] Affirmative Action Reconsidered
by The Milton Measure on Friday, December 11th, 2015
On Wednesday, December 9, the Supreme Court revisited the Fisher v. University of Texas case, first filed in 2013, and heard arguments against the University of Texas Austin’s affirmative action admissions policy. The plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, was rejected by the university system in 2008, and, according to The Wall Street Journal’s live reporting from the courtroom, her lawyers argued that the Constitution “does not permit the use of racial preferences in admissions decisions where, as here, they are neither narrowly tailored nor necessary to meet a compelling, otherwise unsatisfied, educational interest.” In this case, the University of Texas must prove, as any college under federal law, that their admission policies and processes have a compelling interest in the school’s mission statement. Director of Milton’s College Counselling Mr. Skinner brought this case to the attention of seniors this past Tuesday at morning assembly, a day before the Supreme Court revisited the case. His comments were impartial and highlighted the nuances of discussing race in college admissions.
He emphasized the legal terminology of affirmative action—for example, diversity and access rather than race-, gender-, or socioeconomic class-specific terms—and asked students to avoid assuming that affirmative action is one thing or another based on hearsay. Mr. Skinner also asked seniors to consider the importance of an applicant’s “distance traveled” as well as the “cognitive value of diversity” on college campuses.
While current seniors are probably the least affected by the outcome of this court case, freshmen, sophomores, and juniors will likely see a difference in the way colleges approach admission in the next few years due to changes in federal law. Though younger students should not stress out about this decision, our community should stay informed on issues that affect their lives and futures.
As defined by the College Board, a non-profit organization that offers the SAT and AP exams, affirmative action is “remedial and social justice policies designed to cure the problems of the past. At a minimum, the term lacks precision, is inherently ambiguous and is often used effectively by those whose aim is to confuse and obfuscate meaningful, educationally grounded policy discussions regarding access- and diversity-related issues.”
As college decisions begin to roll in, the inevitable tension felt by the senior class has an impact on the entire community. Perhaps this year’s seniors will feel the most passionate about the court case and what they personally believe affirmative action to mean. All students should keep in mind, however, that affirmative action is not designed solely to compensate for racial wrongs in our nation’s past: affirmative action, in fact, in its broadest definition, looks at any area where a student may be disadvantaged or particularly advantaged. Admissions offices are not allowed to think about quotas when making their decisions, as many Americans erroneously believe. According to Mr. Skinner, affirmative action can relate to anything from athletics, development (possibility of donations), legacy, first-generation status, and more.
As a board, we urge both students and faculty to keep this definition in mind in the coming days, and we urge seniors in particular to refrain from speculation. Mr. Skinner left seniors with a final phrase, “This is your time to be a class.” Perhaps we can take that even further, in the interests of promoting open mindedness, and say is a time for Milton to be a supportive community
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