Vanderbilt joins Supreme Court amicus brief supporting use of race in admissions

Vanderbilt University joined 12 peer universities in filing an Fisher Amicus Brief 2015 Nov. 2 with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the continued consideration of race as one factor among many in their admissions decisions. The court will hear arguments in a case challenging the inclusion of race, Fisher v. University of Texas, Dec. 9.

“At Vanderbilt we believe that an inclusive, intellectually stimulating environment with remarkably talented students from diverse backgrounds living and learning together enhances everyone’s experience and capacity for expanding their knowledge and understanding of one another. A rich, varied community is vital for students as they prepare for their future in our increasingly global workforce and world,” Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos said. “We stand with our peer institutions in urging the Supreme Court to continue to uphold its long-standing support of the consideration of an applicant’s race as one of many factors in college admissions decisions.”

Vanderbilt filed the brief with Brown University, University of Chicago, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Duke University, Johns Hopkins University, MIT, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Stanford University and Yale University.

In their brief, the universities wrote, “a diverse student body adds significantly to the rigor and depth of students’ educational experience. Diversity encourages students to question their own assumptions, to test received truths, and to appreciate the complexity of the modern world. This larger understanding prepares … graduates to be active and engaged citizens wrestling with the pressing challenges of the day, to pursue innovation in every field of discovery, and to expand humanity’s learning and accomplishment.”

The universities also wrote that while they “have highly selective admissions criteria designed to ensure that all … students will be prepared for demanding coursework and will graduate successfully, they recognized long ago that admissions by purely numerical factors such as grade point averages and standardized test scores would not effectively accomplish their broader educational missions.”

The plaintiff in the case is Abigail Fisher, a white applicant who sued the University of Texas in 2008 after being denied admission, claiming that the university’s consideration of race in its admissions decisions violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas heard Fisher v. University of Texas in 2009 and found for the university. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled in the university’s favor. The Supreme Court first agreed to hear the case on appeal in 2012.

Vanderbilt and 13 peer institutions filed a similar amicus brief for the court’s first hearing of the case in 2012. Dozens of other universities, higher education groups, scientists, civil rights organizations, elected officials and others also filed amicus briefs at that time supporting the ongoing consideration of race in college admissions decisions.

In its June 24, 2013, decision, the Supreme Court upheld the university’s consideration of race but also found the 5th Circuit had not applied adequate scrutiny to the university’s policies in making its decision, and remanded the case back to the 5th Circuit.

The 5th Circuit once again found for the University of Texas in 2014 and Fisher again appealed the circuit court’s decision. The Supreme Court agreed to hear her appeal and will do so Dec. 9.