Eye on Education

How the Supreme Court Fisher v. University of Texas Ruling on Affirmative Action Affects Ohio State University Admissions


Gus Chan / The Plain Dealer/Landov

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a long-awaited ruling on a case related to affirmative action in college admissions today that essentially affirmed its current stance on the issue.

But the court’s 7-1 decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin did not offer a definitive opinion on whether colleges may consider the use of race in admissions. And the court ordered a federal appeals court in Texas to reconsider the case and review the University of Texas’ evidence more closely.

“It’s almost remarkable for how much it doesn’t do,” Ohio State University law professor Sharon Davies said of the decision.

Advocates on both sides of the affirmative action debate are claiming victory, as Inside Higher Ed observes:

  • Defenders of affirmative action point to the fact that the court’s ruling did not retreat from the idea that colleges can in some circumstances consider race; while
  • Opponents of affirmative action predict that the ruling will set the stage for the appeals court to reject the University of Texas’ policy.

The Fisher case was brought against the University of Texas at Austin by Abigail Fisher, who is white. Fisher said the school rejected her application for admission based on her race.

And at Ohio State

Ohio State University currently uses race and ethnicity as one factor in a “holistic” admissions process, admissions director Vern Granger said. That means that after admissions officers determine which applicants are likely to succeed at Ohio State academically, they then consider “diversity” as one factor in deciding whom to admit.

African American, Hispanic and Native American students all get preference, Granger said. Students who bring academic diversity or particular interests or skills to the school do too.

Ohio State has no plans to change that practice, Granger said.

“At this point, we feel that our process is in compliance,” he said.

Ohio State was one of a group of large, public research universities that filed a brief in support of the University of Texas. In that brief, the schools urged the Supreme Court to continue to allow schools to consider race and ethnicity as one of many factors in deciding which applicants to admit.

Ohio State last revised its admissions process in 2003, to comply with a Supreme Court ruling that year on affirmative action.

What’s Next

It’s not clear if the Fisher case will return to the Supreme Court after consideration by the Court of Appeals in Texas. Even if the case does return to the Supreme Court, it could be another couple of years before a new ruling, Davies said.

In the meanwhile, the Supreme Court is set to take up another affirmative action case next term.


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