The affirmative action case of the day, with stark implications for the future of college admissions, is Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. In the case, which is currently before the United States Supreme Court, two women are suing Texas’s flagship state university, arguing that the school’s affirmative action program constitutes a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The lead plaintiff, Abigail Fisher (below), argues that her rejection from the school was unjust because she had worked hard and achieved good grades and was rejected because she was white. As she put it,

There were people in my class with lower grades who weren’t in all the activities I was in, who were being accepted into UT, and the only other difference between us was the color of our skin. I was taught from the time I was a little girl that any kind of discrimination was wrong. And for an institution of higher learning to act this way makes no sense to me. What kind of example does it set for others?

It’s a compelling argument, even to those who generally support efforts to improve racial diversity on America’s college campuses. But there’s a problem with her story: she probably wouldn’t have been admitted anyway.


As Nikole Hannah-Jones explains at the Atlantic:

In 2008, the year Fisher sent in her application, competition to get into the crown jewel of the Texas university system was stiff. Students entering through the university’s Top 10 program — a mechanism that granted automatic admission to any teen who graduated in the upper 10 percent of his or her high school class — claimed 92 percent of the in-state spots.

There were 841 spots left. That’s less than the number of students living in some dormitories on the Austin campus. So one had to be really good to be admitted. And Fisher. Well….

Fisher did not particularly stand out. Court records show her grade point average (3.59) and SAT scores (1180 out of 1600) were good but not great for the highly selective flagship university. The school’s rejection rate that year for the remaining…openings was higher than the turn-down rate for students trying to get into Harvard.

All of this is not to say that Fisher isn’t a hard working and intelligent young woman. No doubt she is. But her argument doesn’t make much sense. How many students in her class “with lower grades who weren’t in all the activities I was in” were getting into UT, really?

It doesn’t appear it was discrimination that was keeping Fisher out of UT. It seems it was mostly the school’s Top 10 program. That program is merit based.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case in October and will likely issue a decision later this year. [Image via]

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer