Court case could have effect on admissions
By Ester Cross, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Monday, October 22, 2012
The Supreme Court’s pending decision on Fisher v. University of Texas, a case challenging the use of affirmative action policies in public universities, could have unforeseen effects on admissions policies even at private universities like Dartmouth, according to Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson.
The Fisher case is solely concentrated on the use of race in admissions policies at public universities and does not consider whether private institutions can use race-conscious admissions policies. The case is unlikely to have a direct and immediate impact on private colleges and universities, but Dartmouth generally adheres to federal rules on admissions, Johnson said.
“Dartmouth now is toeing the law of the land with respect to race-conscious admissions policies in higher education,” Johnson said.
The case before the Supreme Court involves Abigail Fisher, a white student denied admission to the University of Texas, which uses race as a factor in its admissions process. At issue in the case is whether or not public universities can use affirmative action policies that take a student’s race into consideration in admissions decisions. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Fisher, it may overturn its previous decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, a 2003 case that upheld the University of Michigan Law School’s right to use affirmative action in admissions.
Johnson, a lawyer by training, was a senior administrator at the University of Michigan Law School in 2003 and played a role on both the legal strategy and core communications teams. She said that the Grutter decision allowed the university to use affirmative action as a tool to diversify its student body.
“I feel now as I did then that race-conscious admissions policies — where race is considered as one of many factors in a holistic process — are a modest tool for ensuring access to an education by a diverse group of our citizens and for ensuring that schools are able to carry out their mission of educating a diverse and talented pool of students,” she said.
Johnson said that a major misconception surrounding affirmative action in admissions is that race-conscious policies admit unqualified students to the College. However, in choosing a new class, the admissions review process considers many factors of an individual application, including race, ethnicity, geographical origin, background, experience and public or private educational background, according to Johnson.
Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Maria Laskaris said that the impact of the Supreme Court decision on the College will depend on the specific outcome of the case. If the court rules that students can no longer identify their race or ethnicity on the Common Application, then the admissions process will admit students without consideration of those factors unless students choose to self-identify in other ways, Laskaris said.
“We will continue to review applications holistically and think about students and all that they bring to the table in terms of academic and personal accomplishments, experiences and perspectives — things that we think would really enrich the community,” she said.
In building a diverse student body, the College’s recruitment efforts “cast a wide net” into historically underrepresented communities to recruit a diverse applicant pool, Laskaris said.
The debate about building diverse student bodies at colleges and universities across the United States has included potentially using students’ socioeconomic background instead of their race in the admissions process. At Dartmouth, however, which has a need-blind admissions policy, building a diverse class based on socioeconomic background could be a challenge, Laskaris said.
“We have said that we don’t want that information to be a part of our consideration because of the potential that students might be denied if they need too much financial aid,” she said.
David Sayet ’13, who is a member of Native Americans at Dartmouth, said that the College’s affirmative action policies have effectively increased diversity in the student body.
“If anything, the College is finally fulfilling its charter, which is a separate issue from affirmative action because that’s just doing what the College is supposed to do,” he said.
Sayet said the issue at heart is students’ reactions to affirmative action policies. He said that Native American students continue to be stigmatized by their peers as “Dartmouth’s little Indian problem,” whose acceptance to the College hinges on their racial and ethnic backgrounds.
“You are analyzed no longer as a person,” Sayet said. “You get forced into this category as just a Native who got in.” Assistant Dean and Advisor to Latino Students in the Office of Pluralism and Leadership Rodrigo Ramirez said that some minority students’ discontent with affirmative action policies results as a reaction to other students’ questioning of their accomplishments.
Ramirez said that affirmative action policies ultimately allow universities to take into account minority groups in the United States that have historically been disenfranchised.
“Exposure to others of different backgrounds increases cultural confidence and adaptability and better prepares students to society’s problems, which often involve working with others unlike themselves,” he said.
Afro-American Society President Nikkita McPherson ’13 said that diversity in the student body allows students to engage and learn from each other.
“Whether or not Dartmouth actually has a diverse population is debatable since diversity is not simply filling quotas,” she said. “Instead, it should be people actively engaging with each other, agreeing, disagreeing and stretching their minds beyond their personal perspectives, ignorances and narratives.”