Obama administration affirms use of race as factor in university admissions

Jacob Kerr

In response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin earlier this year, officials from the Obama administration affirmed the use of race as a factor in determining university admissions.

In a letter addressed to university presidents across the country, representatives of the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice said on Friday that their departments strongly support diversity in higher education. 

“The Court preserved the well-established legal principle that colleges and universities have a compelling interest in achieving the educational benefits that flow from a racially and ethnically diverse student body and can lawfully pursue that interest in their admissions programs,” officials said in the letter.

With the Fisher decision, the officials from the education and justice departments said colleges and universities in the U.S. can continue to use race as a factor in their admissions policies if it is necessary for diversity on campus. Representatives also released a document detailing answers to prominent questions about the decision’s impact on admissions.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled the Fifth Circuit Court did not apply strict scrutiny to UT’s admission policy and sent the case back to the appeals court. 

Law professor Lino Graglia said the Obama administration sent the letter because the Fisher decision has opened the door for college admissions policies to be further scrutinized. Graglia mentioned the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger case, which allowed universities and colleges in the U.S. to use race as a factor, but required there be no other race-neutral means of achieving diversity goals.

“The Grutter case said that diversity is a compelling interest,” Graglia said. “What the Fisher case did is cast some skepticism on that. They haven’t disallowed racial preferences [in university admissions], but they certainly invited litigation.”

The Fifth Circuit Court is scheduled to hear the Fisher case again on Nov. 13.