It’s been more than a year since the United States Supreme Court issued its ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas. If you’ve been following the story, you already know that ruling was a cliffhanger, more like the middle of a story than the end. Instead of announcing a final, unassailable decision, the Court made an unusual choice. The justices sent the case back to a lower court, ordering the 5th Circuit to take another look at the arguments and the facts.
On Tuesday afternoon, the 5th Circuit announced its decision, a 2-1 ruling that upholds the current system of admissionsat The University of Texas. That tells us how this chapter of the Fisher story ends. But we also know that the story continues – perhaps with a new appeal to the Supreme Court, and almost certainly with future lawsuits by other plaintiffs against other schools.
If you haven’t been following the case closely, here’s what you need to know. In 2008, a young woman named Abigail Fisher brought a lawsuit challenging the use of race in undergraduate admissions at The University of Texas. At the time,Fisher v. University of Texas was the latest in a long line of cases examining the use of race in university admissions – in California, in Michigan, and nationwide. It was also the third major case looking at the role of race and admissions at UT. Fisher’s case moved quickly through the district court, then reached the 5th Circuit; both upheld the university’s admissions policies. Fisher appealed to the US Supreme Court, which took the case and heard oral arguments in the fall of 2012.
In May of last year, KLRU aired a documentary called Admissions on Trial: Seven Decades of Race and Higher Education, an award-winning project that was co-produced by Villita Media and directed by Lynn Boswell. Our goal was to provide clear and unbiased context for the Fisher case by exploring the history of race and admissions at The University of Texas, and by examining the debate about race in admissions nationwide. Less than a month after our initial broadcast, the Supreme Court announced its decision in Fisher. Remanding the case to a lower court sent a clear signal that Fisher was not yet over, and a strong message that this story is one that will remain important for a long time to come.
In the year since Admissions on Trial first ran, this story has continued to develop rapidly. The Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s ban on affirmative action at state universities, which had been passed by voters as a constitutional amendment. Edward Blum and the Project on Fair Representation – backers of Abigail Fisher’s suit – have begun seeking plaintiffs to challenge admissions at three more universities. And people across the nation have continued to talk about many of the hottest hot-button questions surrounding higher education, including defining equality of access, ensuring that students who enroll in college graduate, and figuring out how students who are accepted to college can afford to attend.
These questions impact a wide variety of people: applicants and admissions officers; students and their parents; activists and university administrators; employers and society as a whole. People with a wide range of opinions have told us they believe questions about the role of race in admissions matter so much simply because education matters so much – as a door to opportunity and a foundation for life-long success. Fairness, we have been told, is crucial. The difference comes because the definition of that fairness can vary so widely.
KLRU plans to examine this latest development in the Fisher case with an updated documentary – a look at recent events and an exploration of what’s likely to come next as the debate about race-conscious admissions evolves. The project will include a website and lesson plans to expand the project’s impact and reach. We hope you’ll join us as we continue our work on this important topic.