SACNAS scientists argue the superiority of diversity when discussing Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (Case No. 11-345)

4 Nov

Moi attended the SACNAS 2012 National Meeting in Seattle. Among the events on her calendar was a discussion with SACNAS board members about why diversity is important and the potential impact of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (Case No. 11-345), which is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. Moi met with:

Lee Bitsoi, (Navajo) EdD SACNAS Secretary,      Bioethics at Harvard

SACNAS Board Members:

Luis Echegoyen, (Cuban) PhD Chemistry,           University of Texas at El Paso

Juan Meza, PhD                                               Dean of Natural Sciences,

                                                                       Professor of Applied Math,                                                                                  UC at Merced

Gabriel Montano,PhD                                        Nanotechnology/Membrane                                                                        Biochemistry                                                                        Los Alamos National Laboratory

Not only do these gentlemen do research and attend conferences in addition to teaching and other activities, they see their roles as MENTORS to those who will attempt to fill their shoes. See, Review of 2012 SACNAS National Meeting in Seattle

Before discussing the SACNAS board members argument in favor of the superiority of diversity, a discussion of affirmative action is necessary.

Plessy v. Ferguson established the principle of “separate but equal” in race issues. Brown v.Board of Education which overturned the principle of “separate but equal.” would not have been necessary, but for Plessy. See also, the history of Brown v. Board of Education

If one believes that all children, regardless of that child’s status have a right to a good basic education and that society must fund and implement policies, which support this principle. Then, one must discuss the issue of equity in education. Because of the segregation, which resulted after Plessy, most folks focus their analysis of Brown almost solely on race. The issue of equity was just as important. The equity issue was explained in terms of unequal resources and unequal access to education.

People tend to cluster in neighborhoods based upon class as much as race. Good teachers tend to gravitate toward neighborhoods where they are paid well and students come from families who mirror their personal backgrounds and values. Good teachers make a difference in a child’s life. One of the difficulties in busing to achieve equity in education is that neighborhoods tend to be segregated by class as well as race. People often make sacrifices to move into neighborhoods they perceive mirror their values. That is why there must be good schools in all segments of the city and there must be good schools in all parts of this state. A good education should not depend upon one’s class or status.

The lawyers in Brown were told that lawsuits were futile and that the legislatures would address the issue of segregation eventually when the public was ready. Meanwhile, several generations of African Americans waited for people to come around and say the Constitution applied to us as well. Generations of African Americans suffered in inferior schools. This state cannot sacrifice the lives of children by not addressing the issue of equity in school funding in a timely manner.

The next huge case, like Brown, will be about equity in education funding. It may not come this year or the next year. It, like Brown, may come several years after a Plessy. It will come. Equity in education funding is the civil rights issue of this century. U.S. Supreme Court watchers are awaiting the decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (Case No. 11-345).

Mark Walsh reported in the Education Week article, Affirmative Action Case Up for Airing at High Court:

The future of affirmative action in education—not just for colleges but potentially for K-12 schools as well—may be on the line when the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a race-conscious admissions plan from the University of Texas next month.

That seems apparent to the scores of education groups that have lined up behind the university with friend-of-the-court briefs calling on the justices to uphold the plan and continue to recognize the need for racial diversity in the nation’s schools and classrooms.

Long identified as essential to the missions of many postsecondary institutions and school districts in the United States, diversity has emerged as central to our nation’s overarching goals associated with educational excellence,” says a joint brief by the College Board, the National School Boards Association, and several other K-12 groups and others that deal with college admissions.

In an interview, Francisco M. Negrón Jr., the general counsel of the NSBA and a co-author of the brief, emphasized the stakes in the scope of the issues posed in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (Case No. 11-345), which is set for arguments Oct. 10.

This is predominantly a higher ed. case, but our interests in K-12 diversity are not dissimilar to the interests of higher education,” he said.

Student Abigail Fisher challenged the University of Texas at Austin on admissions.

The Fisher case is one of the biggest of the court’s new term, and for now is the only education case on the docket.

It involves Abigail Fisher, a white applicant who was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin in 2008 under the university’s “holistic review” program. That program may take race into account for the quarter of places in UT-Austin’s entering freshman class not filled by the Texas law that guarantees admission to high school students who finish in the top 10 percent of their graduating classes.

Lawyers for Ms. Fisher say that but for the consideration of race, she would have been admitted. They say that the Texas program should be struck down under the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection clause because it fails the requirement for a narrowly tailored race-conscious program set forth in the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger. That 5-4 decision involved the University of Michigan law school, and the majority opinion by then-Justice Sandra Day O’Connor expressed a desire for all use of affirmative action in education to end within 25 years….

The theory of “affirmative action” has evolved over time.

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Affirmative action” means positive steps taken to increase the representation of women and minorities in areas of employment, education, and business from which they have been historically excluded. When those steps involve preferential selection—selection on the basis of race, gender, or ethnicity—affirmative action generates intense controversy.

The development, defense, and contestation of preferential affirmative action has proceeded along two paths. One has been legal and administrative as courts, legislatures, and executive departments of government have made and applied rules requiring affirmative action. The other has been the path of public debate, where the practice of preferential treatment has spawned a vast literature, pro and con. Often enough, the two paths have failed to make adequate contact, with the public quarrels not always very securely anchored in any existing legal basis or practice.

The ebb and flow of public controversy over affirmative action can be pictured as two spikes on a line, the first spike representing a period of passionate debate that began around 1972 and tapered off after 1980, and the second indicating a resurgence of debate in the 1990s leading up to the Supreme Court’s decision in the summer of 2003 upholding certain kinds of affirmative action. The first spike encompassed controversy about gender and racial preferences alike. This is because in the beginning affirmative action was as much about the factory, the firehouse, and the corporate suite as about the university campus. The second spike represents a quarrel about race and ethnicity. This is because the burning issue at the turn of the twentieth-first century is about college admissions.[1] In admissions to selective colleges, women need no boost; African-Americans and Hispanics do.[2]

Stanford provides a good analysis of the theory.

In the effort to produce diverse campuses many colleges use a “holistic” admissions policy. Scott Jaschik writes in the Inside Higher Education article, ‘Holistic’ Controversy:

The University of California at Los Angeles uses a “holistic” approach to undergraduate admissions. Each applicant is reviewed not only for test scores and grades, but for low socioeconomic status, a disadvantaged background and evidence of the ability to overcome challenges (among other qualities). Holistic admissions (used by many leading colleges and universities, some of which also consider a candidate’s race and ethnicity) is designed to evaluate each applicant as more than just a set of numbers.

Proponents of holistic admissions say that it evens the playing field for those who didn’t go to the best high schools or couldn’t afford enriching summer travel or SAT tutors. And because holistic admissions avoids automatic cutoff or admission scores for students from any group, proponents hope it can help diversify student bodies without running afoul of court rulings or attracting lawsuits.

Many educators have long recognized that the impact of social class affects both education achievement and life chances after completion of education. There are two impacts from diversity, one is to broaden the life experience of the privileged and to raise the expectations of the disadvantaged. Social class matters in not only other societies, but this one as well.

A few years back, the New York Times did a series about social class in America. That series is still relevant. Janny Scott and David Leonhardt’s overview, Shadowy Lines That Still Divide describes the challenges faced by schools trying to overcome the disparity in education. The complete series can be found at Social Class

Moi’s discussion with Drs. Bitsoi, Echegoyen, Meza, and Montano really was a discussion framed by the scientific method. Keep in mind the good doctors are all scientists. Their argument for a “holistic” approach in college admissions is the role of diversity in scientific inquiry and their argument that diversity in scientific teams produces better results. To a man, they argue that diversity and excellence are not mutually exclusive, but highly compatible. In fact, they argue, that diversity produces excellence of result. They used examples of the impact of the SACNAS method of mentoring young scientists who were selected for mentoring using a “holistic” appraisal of their qualifications. With mentoring and support these young scientists blossomed. The bottom line is that in order for this society to find the answers to problems which vex society, there must be a diverse set of skills and minds to problem-solve.

The question which this society has to answer is how to provide a good education for ALL despite their race or social class. The SACNAS scientists fully support a “holistic” approach approach to college admissions.


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