A Supreme Challenge: Achieving the Educational and Societal Benefits of Diversity After the Supreme Court’s Fisher Decision

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This invited commentary provides a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (2013). The author addresses the question regarding whether the newest decision about the use of affirmative action in higher education admissions raised the bar with respect to the legal doctrine of strict scrutiny, under which colleges and universities must justify their race-conscious decisions. He concludes that the Court maintained the status quo with regard to the compelling interest of diversity and the deference courts should give to institutions of higher education as experts regarding their own educational missions. The Court also reiterated earlier decisions requiring that race-conscious programs be “narrowly tailored” to achieve the educational benefits of diversity, while underscoring the need for institutions to consider race-neutral alternatives to meet this interest. Given the legal and social landscape today, colleges and universities must focus on the bigger question at stake: how to best ensure access and opportunity for individuals of all backgrounds so as to provide the educational benefits of diversity for all students and fulfill this aspect of their educational missions—therefore creating engaged citizens for an increasingly diverse democracy and global citizens who can compete in an increasingly interdependent worldwide economy.

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