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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Supreme Court to hear affirmative action case

Published: March 9, 2012
Section: Front Page, News

As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear a case of affirmative active in college admissions standards, it is unlikely any decision will radically change procedures at Brandeis, Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel said.

Even though Brandeis is a private university, it receives federal funding; therefore, the court’s decision in Fischer v. University of Texas, in which two white students claim the school rejected them because it unfairly favored minorities, could impact how Brandeis weighs race as an admissions factor.

Arguments will not begin before October yet college administrators across the country are closely watching the case because it would reverse the 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger. In the case involving University of Michigan Law School, justices ruled that a point system is unconstitutional but that it is legal to consider race as a factor in decisions.

“It would be impossible for me to say that race is not a factor, but it’s also a bit of a misleading concept to say that race is a direct factor because in reality what we do is evaluate applicants very comprehensively and holistically,” Flagel said in an interview with The Hoot Thursday morning. “Unlike University of Michigan and some others, where it’s a very overt effort to fill a certain number of requisite slots with a certain number of students from different backgrounds, that’s not been the case [at Brandeis].”

At Michigan, Flagel said, a point system rates several components of a student’s application including GPA, test scores and essays. The 2003 ruling prohibited schools from using a point system to rank race. In Grutter, the court ruled that factoring race into admissions was acceptable to create a diverse community. “The Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit the Law School’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body,” O’Connor wrote in the court’s majority opinion.

If the Supreme Court reverses its 2003 decision, it would impact Brandeis on some level and likely produce new guidance from the Department of Education on how to comply with the law. Yet regardless of the how the court rules, there are other ways to maintain diversity even if race is no longer a factor in admissions procedures. Socio-economic diversity and recruitment of racially diverse students are two ways universities can maintain a high percentage of minority students. “One of the things that Brandeis should be about is outreach and access in making sure we are recruiting students from every background and representation,” Flagel said.

Flagel emphasized that at Brandeis academic achievement is the most important factor in determining which students to admit, explaining that while a vast majority of decisions are fairly straightforward, a small percentage of decisions are extraordinarily difficult. In the select group, every applicant has distinguishing characteristics.

“Quality of academic record is by far the most important factor,” Flagel said. “Race is certainly not an overt factor.” In determining students that stand out in a pool of academic talent, Flagel said that admissions officers seek examples displaying not only extracurricular achievements but more so qualities such as and leadership and passion.