UC Officials Back Affirmative Action with Amicus Brief

The President and Chancellors of the University of California submitted an amicus curiae brief in favor of affirmative action to the United States Supreme Court in the case Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin on Nov. 2.

The brief supports the university by providing evidence from nearly two decades of the UC system’s difficulty in promoting diversity under the prohibition of race-conscious admission.

“Over the more than 17 years since California’s constitutional ban on affirmative action went into effect, [the University of California] has experimented with a wide array of race-neutral initiatives aimed at promoting diversity,” the brief said. “Overall, these efforts have not been effective alternatives to [the] UC [system]’s race-conscious admissions program.” 

The ongoing case stems from Abigail Fisher’s undergraduate application for the University of Texas at Austin in 2008. She claims that the university’s use of race as part of the admissions process violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This clause says that a state must treat each applicant in the same manner that it would treat individuals of similar “circumstances and condition”  by providing equal consideration without discriminating based on factors including race and gender.

An amicus curiae, “friend of the court,” brief is often filed by a party that is not directly involved in the lawsuit with the intention of affecting the outcome. These briefs are generally used to provide key information, raise awareness about others who may be affected by the court’s decision or even draw attention from the media.

UC authorities argued three main points in the brief. First, the university argued that universities in general have a compelling, viable interest in pursuing qualitative diversity among the student body. This is diversity defined as “a student body that includes students of varying backgrounds across many characteristics, including but not limited to race.” Second, the brief states the UC system’s wide variety of approaches over the years have demonstrated that maintaining historic, reflective levels of diversity using race-neutral methods is impossible. Finally, the university described how admission policies must consider how affirmative action affects critical constitutional and educational interests separate from racial diversity.

Despite the efforts made to expand racial diversity across the UC system, the brief detailed the UC system’s underwhelming representation of California’s diverse population.

“The undergraduate student populations at the University of California’s most selective campuses (UC Berkeley and UCLA) are markedly less racially diverse today than they were in the mid-1990s,” the brief explained. “Enrollment of racial minorities systemwide continues to lag far behind California’s population even as [University of California] has expanded overall enrollment on many of its campuses.”

Sixth College senior Thiba Thiagarajan told the UCSD Guardian that affirmative-action policy considerations may be beneficial for some individuals, but there are other factors that affect people adversely as well.

“I think it’s mostly a good thing to pay attention to those who are likely to be somewhat disadvantaged,” Thiagarajan said. “Personally, I haven’t been affected by my race, ethnicity, gender or class in positive or negative ways. I have been disqualified from certain things mainly for my citizenship status; being an American permanent resident but a non-American citizen, I understand why, especially when it comes to paying jobs.”

Earl Warren College fifth-year Wendy Vasquez commented on how the lack of representation impacts student willingness to apply to higher education.

“Yes, I think affirmative action is necessary, because it gives hope to minorities to try for higher education,” Vasquez said. “It gives a fighting chance. I hear many students who are discouraged from higher education because they can neither relate to others on campus, nor do they think that it is possible [to be admitted].”

UC President Janet Napolitano described how anti-affirmative action policies prevented the state from satisfying its state-specific educational needs.

“The University of California belongs to the people of California and race-blind admissions have curbed our ability to fully engage the learning potential found among this state’s diverse population,” Napolitano said in a press release. “We are committed to serving California’s educational needs. Ensuring campuses can enable meaningful interactions among students of different backgrounds is key to this mission.”