Fisher v. Texas: Another civil rights movement on the way?

Students of color are again under attack in the Fisher v. Texas case currently being decided in the US Supreme Court. For past attacks see Bakke, Hopwood, Grutter and Gratz. Considering that Grutter upheld race as one of many factors under a decade ago, conservatives on the court appear to be determined to strike down race/ethnicity as one of many factors in admissions. It doesn’t seem to matter to Fisher (or Scalia or Thomas etc.) that students of color with better scores than Fisher were rejected and White students with lesser scores were admitted.

We addressed the historical enrollment of African Americans and Latinos at UT-Austin in recent papers. We believe the historical data contained within these papers is a unique analysis of historical enrollment of students of color at UT-Austin. Our findings: Over the past 75 years the under-representation gap has decreased for African Americans at UT-Austin. For Latinos, the gap decreased until the 1982 data point, then the under-representation expanded to almost 10% by 2012. Notably, both groups are still heavily under-represented relative to their total proportions in the state.

University of Texas at Austin Enrollment Under-Representation (1937-2012)

University of Texas at Austin Enrollment and Texas Population Differential (1937-2012)

Year AA Enroll Census AA Lat Enroll Census Lat AA Diff Lat Diff
1937 0.00% 14.4% 1.4% 11.5% 14.4% 10.1%
1952 0.00% 12.7% 2.1% 13.0% 12.7% 10.9%
1967 0.80% 12.5% 2.9% 17.7% 11.7% 14.8%
1982 2.70% 12.0% 9.2% 21.0% 9.3% 11.8%
1997 3.40% 11.5% 11.5% 25.5% 8.1% 14.0%
2001 3.70% 11.5% 13.2% 25.5% 7.8% 12.3%
2012 4.50% 11.8% 18.4% 37.6% 7.5% 19.6%

1937-2001 Comparisons: Analysis of Cactus Yearbooks and US Census 1940, 1950, 1970, 1980, and 2000 2012 Comparison: University of Texas Public Enrollment Data and 2010 Census Data

The under-representation graph is actually a conservative estimate because the school-aged population is currently 50% Latino in Texas. For example, if you were to use this number as the baseline, the under-representation of Latinos at UT-Austin would balloon from ~19% to ~32%.

If Affirmative Action is abolished in Texas and elsewhere, I suspect these gaps will expand in Texas and considerably more so in less diverse states. Is creating greater inequality in higher education access the way through to a more equitable society? The line of reasoning that by ignoring race we create equality is clearly convenient for some, and inconvenient for others. The thinly veiled arguments of abolishing “racial preference” when racial inequality still exist throughout society will only result in the re-segregation of higher education rather than a new “post-racial” society. As students of color are increasingly pushed to the margin and denied access to higher education, I wouldn’t be surprised if a second civil rights and protest era arises. If a consistent Latino vote finally emerges, there will be severe political consequences in Texas and elsewhere.


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