Let’s Talk Affirmative Action: Fisher vs. University of Texas- Giselle Galan

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In 2012, the Fisher vs. Texas case arose in the U.S Supreme court. Abigail Fisher, student suing against the University of Texas, believed she was denied acceptance because of the absence of racial preference. Within the midst of these conversations, educators, students, and legislators have all questioned the idea of affirmative action. On one side, affirmative action, depending on the person or social group defining it, can view affirmative action as a positive term in higher education. On the other hand, affirmative action may also bring a negative connotation to higher education. In attention to when affirmative action was first introduced compared to affirmative action in publicity of the Fisher vs. University of Texas case, my research questions ask the following: How did advocates envision “affirmative action” when they originated the term by 1965, and how have opponents tried to redefine this term in the Fisher case?

Although affirmative action was first introduced in context of employment in the United States, legislators and advocates of this reform believed in equal opportunity regardless of their “race, creed, color, or national origin” (Burstein, p. 373). This was the idea of affirmative action by 1965. When interpreting the definition of affirmative action in 1965, people in the United States were able to understand the positive movement this term brought for underrepresented groups; affirmative action was used as an optimistic term. Over the past five decades, legislators and advocates, as well as new audience like educators, students, and parents, begin to question the language affirmative action brings varying case by case. More specifically, the Fisher vs. University of Texas brings in the term affirmative action as a negative discrimination towards Abigail Fisher due to her background (white student from Texas). Looking at both situations, appointing the importance of language and wording is critical to the origins of the term-affirmative action. Language and the definition of this term, while having a basic context, continue to be a very broad term with many loopholes. This is especially with the attempt to understand the difference between diversity requirements (quota) and the idea of affirmative action on college campuses.

Background- The Civil Rights Act of 1964:

The late 1950’s and early 1960’s brought many several major events in the fight for Civil Rights in America. It was a time where many regions of the United States continued to treat people of color, in particular African Americans, as second-class citizens (Pilgrim). Laws like the Jim Crow laws kept people of color separate from white people in any way possible (Pilgrim). This meant separation in schools, restaurants, restrooms, and transportation due to the color of their skin (Pilgrim).

From these ongoing events of discrimination, affirmative action was first introduced within the context of the 1961 Executive Order 10925. President John F. Kennedy issued The Executive Order 10925 in order to create the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity. This would provide instructions to projects financed with federal funds taking affirmative action to ensure the hiring and employment practices are free of racial bias (“Equal Employment Opportunity and Executive Order 10925”).

Sadly after the death of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson continued on Kennedy’s path to an inclusive America for all. He did so by signing into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which would be a step closer to eliminate the ongoing struggle for an equal employment opportunity (Burstein, p. 373). During the1964 signing, the court ordered that affirmative action would be used so that employees would be treated with equal opportunity regardless of their “race, creed, color, or national origin” (Burstein, p.373).

While it was introduced in 1961 and 1964, affirmative action was not fully defined until 1965, when President Johnson gave a commencement speech to the graduating class at Howard University. President Johnson speech underlies the concepts of affirmative action emphasizing that civil rights laws alone are not enough to solve discrimination: “We seek not just freedom but opportunity—not just legal equity but human ability—not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result” (Johnson). Additionally, throughout his speech, Johnson emphasizes the access of opportunity in relation to affirmative action and higher education. Despite the challenges education (at any level) has presented to diverse groups, many communities remain certain that education is the key to a better life with promising opportunities involved.

Affirmative Action in Higher Education- University of California v. Bakke:

However, as decades pass, the wording of “equality of opportunity” and “equality of outcomes” is at question in regards of the result affirmative action entitles (Crashcourse 01:15). As described by Crashcourse (a series of educational videos in collaboration to PBS), the narrator explains the key differences between each term: equality of opportunity is an equal shot at success compared to an equality of outcomes where not all Americans will be equally successful (01:28). Therefore “that is why they are the focus of affirmative action efforts” (Crashcourse 01:38). More importantly, the defense of practice and policy are applied as foundational structure within the discussion of affirmative action in higher education in America. Looking closely at the definition of affirmative action, readers must take into consideration the public debate that comes with the term while tackling the keys words established with it: “equality, equity, diversity, and democratic” (Tomasson, Crosby, Herzberger, p. Preface).

In perspective of recent, Fisher vs. the University of Texas, it is critical for readers to understand the history of affirmative action when it was first introduced in higher education in America. The 1978 University of California vs. Bakke case was the first case documented to question the legality of affirmative action because the denial of Allan P. Bakke into medical school at the University of California. Bakke was denied acceptance into the University of California because of racial quote- he was white (“BAKKE”). The diagram below shows the breakdown the University of California’s medical school admission’s process worked. For every 100 students admitted, 16 of them are in representation of racial seating.

University of California's Admission Process

In Bakke’s court ruling, two perspectives from legislators indicate the University of California could not deny Bakke because they did not provided equal opportunity. Documented on the court ruling, it states, “no matter how strong their qualifications, quantitative and extracurricular, including their own potential for contribution to educational diversity, they are never afforded the chance to compete with applicants from the preferred groups for the special admissions seats” (“BAKKE”). The court also ruled that it was constitutional because the University of California was meeting a convincing government interest; it was constitutional because it took into consider race as a factor in admissions (“BAKKE”).

Affirmative Action in Higher Education- Fisher vs. University of Texas

As a senior in high school, applying for college is a long, potentially stressful process. For some students, they take alternative routes that do not necessarily lead to higher education. But for Abigail Fisher, her pursuit to higher education was her route after high school. In 2007, Abigail Fisher applied to the University of Texas at Austin with high expectations of getting admitted. To Fisher’s surprise, she was denied summer and fall admission into the class of 2008 (“FISHER”). Wanting to have her application re-evaluated, Fisher believed that her application was considering her race, white, as a factor (“FISHER”). Therefore, Fisher sued on theory that there were other students, emphasizing minority students, who were admitted with “different qualifications” the year she applied (CardozoLawSchool 00:44).

Along with Fisher’s application, reader must understand that the University of Texas has two major components in their admission process (“FISHER”). The first method UT uses is the Top 10 Percent Law (House Bill 588), which was passed in 1997 (“FISHER”). This law “guarantees Texas public high school students graduating in the top 10 percent of their class admission to any state university, including UT” (“FISHER”). The second method UT uses is the academic index (AI) and a personal achievement index (PAI) plan (“FISHER”). The “AI/PAI Plan” is a “multi-faceted, individual review process for admitting applicants who do not qualify for automatic admission under the Top 10 Percent Law, allegedly designed and developed from principles established by the Supreme Court” (“FISHER”).

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As describe in Fisher vs. the University of Texas, UT brings forth an alternative system of admissions. Demonstrated through the video “Professor Michelle Adams on Fisher vs. University of Texas”, Cardozo Law Professor, Michelle Adams discusses Fisher vs. the University of Texas (“CardozoLawSchool”). Professor Adams confidently assures where her standpoint is; she believes this case will have a greater impact on a higher education than most in and out of higher EDU can imagine. In limelight to UT and the direction it takes to the other 90% of students, admissions takes into consideration factors like academic performance, extracurricular activities, and race (“CardozoLawSchool” 00:56).

Looking at affirmative action within the context of higher education and its definition in the Fisher case, administration and legislators continue to attempt to understand the difference between diversity requirements (quota) and the idea of affirmative action on UT’s campus.

Conclusion: What now?

Over the past decade, the United States has experienced a growth in communities of color. Heading in the same direction is the increase number of students of color in institutions of higher education in America. The basic idea that universities can create programs to build and maintain a diverse student body has been upheld since affirmative action was first introduced in 1964. Affirmative action will continue to remain a controversial topic with endless directions of opinions and values. Some have argued that in the near future, affirmative action will eventually be removed. Maintenance for affirmative action will resume, as advocates who envisioned the term in 1965, because many people recognize support for minority groups still remain in order to build equal formation for all in the United States. Nonetheless, one’s interpretation on affirmative action depends on many things like one’s personal background and beliefs.

Works Cited

Abigail Noel FISHER and Rachel Multer Michalewicz, Plaintiffs, v. State of TEXAS, Et Al., Defendants. United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division. 29 May 2008. Google Scholar. Web. 21 Apr. 2016.

Burstein, Paul. Equal Employment Opportunity: Labor Market Discrimination and Public Policy. New York: Aldine De Gruyter, 1994. Print.

CardozoLawSchool. “Professor Michelle Adams on Fisher v. University of Texas.” YouTube. YouTube, 04 Mar. 2013. Web. 29 Apr. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-yJ7o06Pgg>.

Crashcourse. “Affirmative Action: Crash Course Government and Politics #32.” YouTube. YouTube, 26 Sept. 2015. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJgQR6xiZGs>.

“Equal Employment Opportunity and Executive Order 10925.” Equal Employment Opportunity and Executive Order 10925 11 University of Kansas Law Review 1962-1963. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.

Pilgrim, David. ” What Was Jim Crow.” Jim Crow Museum. Ferris State University, Sept. 2000. Web. 27 Apr. 2016. <http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/what.htm>.

“President Lyndon B. Johnson’s.” Commencement Address at Howard University: “To Fulfill These Rights” June 4, 1965. University of Texas, 06 June 2007. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA v. BAKKE. Supreme Court of United States. 28 June 1987. Google Scholar. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.

Tomasson, Richard F., Faye J. Crosby, and Sharon D. Herzberger. Affirmative Action: The Pros and Cons of Policy and Practice. Lanham, MD: American UP, 1996. Print.

Yosso, Tara J. “From Jim Crow to Affirmative Action and Back Again: A Critical Race Discussion of Racialized Rationales and Access to Higher Education.” Review of Research in Education 28 (2004): 1-25. JSTOR. Web. 01 Apr. 2016.


Waiting for Superman

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David Guggenheim director of Waiting for Superman showcases the hardships of our nation’s education system. He begins his film reflecting on his former film, Teach. Guggenheim realizes the heroic job teachers, especially teachers in the public school education; take on is one that not everyone is capable of. Teachers in the film Teach sacrifice many endless nights of sleep in order to ensure that every child gets a “decent” education. However, as anyone may realize, ensuring that every child be on track is, for the most part, nonrealistic. Therefore, students get pushed through the system. Geoffrey Canada, charter school advocate, describes the idea that parents, students, and potential educators wanting to believe in their schools, forcing them to take a leap of faith. As Guggenheim continues his film, he follows various stories of different situations students and parents must face through the public education system.

While all stories carried their own uniqueness, Bianca’s story struck me. Nakia and Bianca are from Harlem, New York; Nakia is in the 5th grade receiving a catholic school education. Backtracking, Nakia, Bianca’s mother, reflects on how she got to where she is. She expresses that she never expected to have kids. However, when Bianca came into her life, she knew that she wanted Bianca to have more opportunity than she had growing up, in limelight to education. Nakia states, “I don’t care what I have to do. I don’t care how many jobs I have to obtain. But she will go to college. And there’s no second-guessing on it. You go to college. Learn, you get your education. And you don’t get a job, you get a career. That there is a difference” (Guggenheim 16:18). In this scene the director showed how the mother and daughter interacted with each other demonstrating how Bianca shows her mother her schoolwork. This could imply that Nakia is very much involved in Bianca’s school life and will do anything, besides paying for an alternative schooling (compared to traditional schools) in order to see excellence from Bianca. One could only hope that the way Nakia showcases her drive for her daughter’s education that other parents do so as well.

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Throughout the film, it is clear how Guggenheim emphasizes the importance of alternative methods within our educational system. Having speakers like Geoffery Canada and displaying successful charter schools like KIPP describe to his audience how important charter schools are for the public. Nonetheless, the film does demonstrate how the lottery, presented by various charter schools, only provide false hopes for many urban families looking to improve their child(ren)’s education. Similar to Kahlenberg and Potter, both author and director acknowledge the hardships and risk families have when applying to charter schools. The idea of more resources, more one-on-one time, and less test orientated education exhibits the ideal schooling compared to the schooling these families are provide with (their failing schools). Kahlenberg and Potter, while agreeing that the lottery is not the most effective system for charter school, they talk about it in light of the problem of segregation. In Kahlenberg and Potter’s chapter “Charter Schools that Integrate Students”, they state “…one of the reasons why we need more diverse charter schools, but the lottery system is also a remainder of why charter schools alone cannot solve the problem of segregation in public schools” (Kahlenberg and Potter 134). Looking at both standpoints. It is very interesting that both authors and director acknowledge the lottery; however, it is interesting to see the priorities individuals within the education world stand in terms of what they see as importance.

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Guggenheim, Davis. Waiting for “Superman.” 2010. Film.

Kahlenberg, Richard D., and Halley Potter. A Smarter Charter: Finding What Works for Charter Schools and Public Education. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

The Home Schooled Take the Capitol… to Thank Their Legislators

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As state Senator Joe Markley begins his opening remarks, eager parents and students brainstorm various questions to ask about both his life and his work. Senator Markley completed his first full term at the age of 27. He describes his youth at the capital being his biggest setback. As one of the younger senators, one of his constant struggles was voting against certain things. “I worried that I would be blamed for saying no; therefore, I constantly said yes”. Currently completing his second term, Markley feels that he is at an advantage compared to his fellow peers. Having experienced the election process at such a young age, Markley encourages younger youth to consider the life of a legislator as a career. Therefore, instead of having to constantly convince legislators to make moralistic decisions, have them come in with desired characteristics- “You don’t win by having a good argument, rather change the people that are up here”. Senator Markley concludes his opening remarks by taking a few questions and inviting people to enjoy the capital for the day.

As the day continues, the parents of TEACH, or The Education Association of Christian Homeschoolers, gathered much like they do every year at the Capitol building. The main organizer said in her speech that they have come to be known as the “cookie people” to the capitol staff. Each parent brought all of their students to demonstrate all that they’ve been learning, to pick up new teaching strategies, to connect with other homeschooling parents, and to thank the legislators that have been advocating for them.

Many of the parents who were present in the Capitol Building were members of one of the many Classical Conversations communities. Classical Conversations is a Christian homeschooling network that offers a plethora of resources to homeschooling parents and their homeschooled children. They hold meetings where students from different families and ages can come and learn together under one parent. Those meetings (frequent or infrequent) serve to create the community aspect many homeschooling parents feel that their students miss out on when they choose to educate them at home. Their students make new friends and thus new partners in learning. They also offer tutoring sessions for homeschooling parents so that all parents (both new and veteran teachers) have the opportunity to stay up to date on new strategies that have been proven effective.

 As we transitioned into the next section, “Excellence in Education” presented by Classical Conversations, we were able to take a closer look into lessons of a “successful” parent-tutor in the Classical Conversations community. In the middle of the room, students begin to sing songs about everything from math to history. The youngest kid singing couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old but could recite a list of squared and cubed numbers as well as their twelve year old peers.There was a sense of pride in their ability to demonstrate their lessons without fear. It was equally present on the faces of the parents watching excitedly in their seats, and on the faces of the students participating. Parents who didn’t have children in the demonstration were equally as thrilled. Afterall, this was exactly what the yearly trips to the capitol had been designed to do. To reassure new and old parents that this was working and that it could work all the way until their children graduated as long as they had the right tools.