AERA Holds Press Club Briefing on Post-<em>Fisher</em> Implications and Research Opportunities
AERA Holds Press Club Briefing on Post-Fisher Implications and Research Opportunities

Gary Orfield (University of California, Los Angeles),
Felice J. Levine (AERA Executive Director),
Theodore M. Shaw (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill),
Liliana M. Garces (The Pennsylvania State University),
Stella M. Flores (New York University),
and Angelo N. Ancheta (Counsel of Record for the
AERA et al Amicus Curiae Brief)

June 2016

AERA held a briefing at the National Press Club on June 28—five days after the U.S. Supreme Court announced its 4–3 decision in Fisher v. University of Texas, Austin—to scrutinize from a legal and research perspective what the ruling means and what lies ahead. In a majority opinion issued by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court upheld the university’s admissions policy and affirmed considering race as a factor in higher education admissions.

The title of the briefing—“After Fisher: What the Supreme Court’s Ruling Means for Students, Colleges, and the Country”—captured the purposes of the briefing and AERA’s commitment to bringing high-quality research, data, and statistics to bear on fostering sound public policy.

In brief opening remarks, AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine praised the sustained, rigorous research that made a difference in the case. She also thanked Justice Kennedy for his emphasis on the importance of research and data, including data offered by the University of Texas, Austin, that speak to why it is essential for race to be taken into account in order to realize the benefits that come from diverse educational experiences.

The briefing—which drew a standing-room-only on-site audience of 100, with nearly 300 more participating via livestream or a toll-free call-in line—featured a panel of five leading education research and civil rights experts: Gary Orfield, Theodore M. Shaw, Angelo N. Ancheta, Liliana M. Garces, and Stella M. Flores.

Theodore M. Shaw, distinguished professor of law and the director of the Center for Civil Rights at the University of North Carolina School of Law at Chapel Hill, spoke about the constitutional findings of the ruling and its implications for civil rights. He detailed how the consideration of race as a factor in higher education admissions is constitutional and discussed how the use of affirmative action erodes racial stereotyping while promoting a more equitably diverse society.

Angelo N. Ancheta, counsel of record for the AERA et al. amicus brief, spoke on how the ruling comports with research on the benefits of diversity in education. He explained how the Supreme Court examined the harm that racial isolation causes. He also pointed out that the Supreme Court did not attempt to quantify what a critical mass is supposed to be. Though it was not addressed by the Court, Ancheta encouraged researchers to look at the question of critical mass quantification.

Ancheta was followed by Liliana M. Garces, associate professor of higher education and research associate at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at Pennsylvania State University. Garces spoke about research as an asset not only for the justices but also for educational institutions going forward. She addressed the continuing opportunities that affirmative action provides for those institutions and explained how campus racial diversity declines when race is not used as a factor in admissions. She praised the Court’s majority opinion, saying that it reflected a robust understanding of the value of diversity.

Stella M. Flores, associate professor of higher education at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University, spoke about the implications of University of Texas processes for other institutions and states. She emphasized the importance that states and institutions understand, respond to, and forecast changing demography. She went on to explain that states and universities must ensure that responsible public policies for educational equity are being enforced and effectively implemented.

Gary Orfield, professor of education, law, political science, and urban planning and co-director of the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at the University of California, Los Angeles, spoke about opportunities and priorities for future research. He noted that the time is ripe to shift the research focus from developing basic justifications for campus diversity to better understanding how campuses can achieve rich diversity in their admissions, recruitment, and student aid systems, and better understanding how to achieve diversity across campus and across academic fields.

The briefing concluded with a robust audience question-and-answer session, which touched on topics such as how the Court’s decision will affect Asian and Native American students, the applicability of the Fisher decision for other states and institutions, and how to better promote diversity on university campuses.

This public briefing was preceded by an AERA Press Club briefing on December 2, 2015, when a panel of experts discussed the evidence on the use of race as a factor in university admissions policies and the educational benefits of student diversity. The December briefing followed up on the amicus brief that AERA and nine other scientific societies filed before the Supreme Court in October 2015.

Video and media briefing materials from the event can be found on the AERA website.

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