AERA et al. File Amicus Brief in <em>Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin</em>
AERA et al. File Amicus Brief in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin

For Immediate Release:
November 5, 2015

Tony Pals,
(202) 238-3235 (office), (202) 288-9333 (cell)
Victoria Oms,
(202) 238-3233 (office)

AERA et al. File Amicus Brief in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin
Brief Brings Science to Bear in Major Affirmative Action Case

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 5—On October 30, the American Educational Research Association filed an amicus curiae brief in the U.S. Supreme Court’s reconsideration of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. The association is joined by nine other scientific societies in urging the court to consider an overwhelming body of scientific evidence relevant to the case. The court will hear oral arguments in the case on December 9.

“AERA has a fundamental interest in the accurate presentation of social science research on these important questions of law,” said AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine. “We have a responsibility to present the best scientific evidence to the court. The association is committed to public policies based on rigorous scientific evidence. We are joined by a wide number of other scientific organizations that share this commitment.”

The co-signers of the brief are the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Anthropological Association, the American Political Science Association, the American Sociological Association, the American Statistical Association, the Association for the Study of Higher Education, the Law and Society Association, the Linguistic Society of America, and the National Academy of Engineering.

This is the second time that the Fisher case has gone to the U.S. Supreme Court. The case was initiated in 2008 as a challenge to the university’s policy of using race as a factor in admissions decisions. In 2013, the court ruled that a lower court did not apply the correct legal standards under the Constitution, and sent the case back to lower courts.

Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the university’s admissions program as constitutional, and the plaintiff appealed once again to the Supreme Court, which agreed to take the case. AERA and seven other scientific societies filed an amicus brief in support of the university in the first appeal of the Fisher case, and now ten organizations have filed a science-driven brief in the latest appeal.

“In determining the constitutionality of the UT-Austin admissions policy, the court’s decision should be informed by reliable and robust research findings as it has in previous landmark decisions,” said Levine. “In filing this brief, we have again taken our responsibility as scientific societies quite seriously. A wide team of scholars has scrutinized all of the studies that have been undertaken since 2012, and we have concluded that the court needs to have accessible the cumulative knowledge now at hand.”

Accordingly, the AERA et al. brief provides summaries and citations of pertinent studies to aid the court’s deliberations on (1) whether student body diversity remains a compelling governmental interest and (2) whether the policy is narrowly tailored.

The brief lays out the research evidence demonstrating that diversity leads to important educational benefits and prevents the harms of racial isolation. Numerous studies demonstrate that student body diversity leads to important educational benefits, such as the reduction of prejudice; growth in cognitive abilities, critical thinking skills, and self-confidence; the promotion of civic engagement and skills needed for professional development and leadership; and improved classroom environments and curricula.

Research also shows that significant harms are associated with student bodies and classroom environments that contain only token numbers of minority students. Harmful conditions associated with racial isolation include overt discrimination against minority students and stereotype threat that can compromise minority student achievement.

The brief also covers how recent research addresses key issues raised by the plaintiff in Fisher, such as how institutions must rely on context to determine the “critical mass” of students necessary to promote diversity and how pursuing diversity along multiple dimensions, including socioeconomic status, can help advance racial and ethnic diversity and an institution’s overall mission.

In addition, the AERA et al. brief presents research undermining arguments that diversity harms minority students. Research shows that purported problems of student stigma and the “mismatch” of minority students—the supposition that minority students will underperform at selective universities because of lesser academic credentials—lack a solid empirical basis.

Instead, research shows that stigma is not a significant problem in institutions using diversity-based admissions, and that race-conscious admissions policies lead to higher academic performance and college completion by minority students.

Finally, the AERA et al. brief summarizes research showing that race-conscious policies are necessary to achieve diversity and that race-neutral policies, such as the top-10-percent plan or policies that replace race-conscious measures with class-based preferences, are, by themselves, insufficient for advancing a diversity interest.

The Supreme Court will release its decision before the summer of 2016.

About AERA
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the largest national professional organization devoted to the scientific study of education. Founded in 1916, AERA advances knowledge about education, encourages scholarly inquiry related to education, and promotes the use of research to improve education and serve the public good. Find AERA on Facebook and Twitter.


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