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University Of Texas At Austin President Reacts To Affirmative Action Ruling


Another decision announced by the Supreme Court today was a big win for the University of Texas at Austin. For more than a decade, the school has taken into account the race and ethnicity of applicants, among other things, for a small portion of its incoming freshman classes. That system was challenged by a white student, Abigail Fisher. Her application to UT was denied back in 2008. She brought a case claiming she was discriminated against based on her race.


The court voted four to three in UT's favor. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself. The school's admissions process has two parts. Most students are automatically admitted if they graduated near the top of their high school class. It's called the Top 10 Percent program, though the actual percentage varies year to year. I asked the president of UT Austin, Gregory Fenves, for more details on how it works.

GREGORY FENVES: Three quarters of our freshman admissions are automatically admitted based on class rank. Currently the cut off is - the top 7 percent of Texas high school graduates are auto-admitted to the University of Texas at Austin.

The other 25 percent of the freshman class is admitted through a comprehensive, holistic process where we look at academic and personal achievement factors and then weigh all those factors to reach an admissions decision.

CORNISH: And that's the portion where race can come into play.

FENVES: Race and ethnicity is one factor of a factor of another factor in the holistic admissions process.

CORNISH: So essentially UT was arguing that this Top 10 Percent program was not enough to accomplish your diversity goals. Can you talk about how come?

FENVES: Well, it's - the Top 10 Percent law makes a admissions decision on a single factor, and that's class rank. Class rank is an important factor that represents academic achievement. But if we're looking at an entire freshman class of well over 7,000 students, we want to make sure that we're representing diversity of the students in the state of Texas with all the different backgrounds, experiences that they bring to the university as part of their education.

CORNISH: So what's your reaction to the Supreme Court ruling today?

FENVES: Well, I am thrilled and gratified that the court recognized that this very comprehensive admissions process we use is constitutional, and it is narrowly tailored and recognizes that every student at the University of Texas benefits from getting an education in a diverse environment. So we are very, very pleased with the court's decision today.

CORNISH: I want to bring up one other thing. In his dissent, Justice Samuel Alito raised a question about the goal, and he called UT's policy goals vague, essentially arguing that you guys haven't quite pinned down the exact, precise goal of what you're trying to achieve. What do you consider your end goal?

FENVES: Well, our end goal is not a specific percentage. Our end goal is that every student at the University of Texas understands individuals with other races and other backgrounds, is prepared to lead in a very diverse workforce and society and understand the issues that are around a very, very complex society. And so that's what our goal is.

CORNISH: Gregory Fenves, thank you so much for speaking with us.

FENVES: OK, thank you very much.

CORNISH: That was Gregory Fenves, president of the University of Texas at Austin. This morning the Supreme Court upheld the university's practice of factoring race and ethnicity into its admissions. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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