ILACHE Responds to Attacks on Affirmative Action

By Elizabeth Ortiz

            The Illinois Latino Advisory Council on Higher Education strongly supports the use of affirmative action in college and university admissions practices and procedures.  ILACHE is going on record in defense of hard won affirmative action decisions and states unequivocally the compelling interest of the U.S. as a nation to ensure access and diversity for all students in higher education. The recent decision by the United States Supreme Court to hear the case of Fisher v. Texas et al. has put affirmative action in jeopardy, along with the benefits that accrue to all students in diverse learning environments. The hard won gains of recent decades should not be undone. 

            The use of race as a criterion in admissions decisions has been won in other landmark Supreme Court cases. In 2003, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, in Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306, ruled that the U.S. had a compelling interest in promoting diversity. Writing for the court, Justice O’Connor concluded that universities, and in particular, law schools were the incubators for preparing future leaders.  Justice O’Connor stated that “i(I)n order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity.”

             Diversity in our universities and colleges is not just a social issue it is an economic imperative if we are to remain a prosperous and globally competitive nation.  An educated populace is critical to U.S. economic prosperity.  Census data illustrates the rapidly changing U.S. demography.  According to 2010 census estimates, minorities are estimated to be 35% of the nation's total population and states such as California are leading the way with more than 50% of its population coming from traditional minority populations. Census projections show that by 2023, the U.S. K-12 educational systems will consist of a majority of children from racial-ethnic-minority backgrounds, and by 2042 it is estimated that whites will comprise a minority within the U.S. population as a whole. Diversity enrollment and recruitment for U.S. colleges and universities is essential as a strategic response to these rapidly shifting demographics. 

            Further, the simple reliance on percentages that is the premise that the Texas case is utilizing to challenge affirmative action is troubling.  Affirmative action alone does not equate to the increase of diversity in Texas’s university system.  There are two factors that may be contributing to this increasing diversity, including the changing Texas demography and the Texas top 10% admission policy.  Texas has changed from a majority to minority state and as the 2010 census data show minorities now constitute 53% of the state’s population.  In addition, the top 10% policy instituted by the state of Texas allowed universities to admit the top 10% of students from all school districts.  This policy has also contributed to the diversifying of Texas universities. This demographic trend along with the top 10% admission practice will continue to diversify Texas universities in the years to come.

            ILACHE urges all to become involved in the public discussion to save affirmative action.  We owe it to future generations to safeguard access to a college education.