Penn State President Supports Affirmative Action Ruling
You could say diversity has been a hot topic at Penn State in recent history. The administration took the easy opportunity yesterday to announce its support for affirmative action in college admissions as the U.S. Supreme Court sent a case questioning the University of Texas at Austin’s policies back to a lower court.
While Penn State does not factor race or ethnicity into its admissions process, it is an affirmative action and equal opportunity employer, which the ruling might have affected. In a statement, Penn State President Rodney Erickson defended Penn State’s strategies to diversify the student population, including actively recruiting in cities like Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.
“This decision allows universities to continue to assist historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups with educational opportunities that might not otherwise be available to them,” Erickson said. “Penn State has long been an advocate for diversity in higher education and, in watching this case carefully, it has reaffirmed our position that diversity adds to the student experience and to the overall quality of our university.”
Like universities across the country, since the 1960s Penn State has traditionally struggled to recruit a diverse student population. According to the most current statistics, non-white students comprise about 18 percent of total enrollment. And, the university has pledged a commitment to its “Framework to Foster Diversity” and formed a Joint Diversity Awareness Task Force in the aftermath of the infamous Chi Omega Mexican party ordeal.
The Court ruled in a 7-1 decision that an appeals court should rehear the case of Abigail Fisher, who accused UT of denying her admission because of her race (Fisher is a white woman.)
It was a surprise decision for the right-leaning court, dodging a major precedent, but one that sets a higher legal standard for future affirmative action cases.
“Strict scrutiny [of affirmative action policy] imposes on the university the ultimate burden of demonstrating, before turning to racial classification, that available, workable race-neutral alternatives do not suffice,” wrote Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, for the majority.
Under this precedent, UT must prove that affirmative action is totally necessary to achieve diversity.