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UT, Affirmative Action, and the 'Achievement Gap'

Wednesday, Oct. 10, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Fisher v. The University of Texas. The case asks whether including race as a factor for admission is constitutional. Debate around the issue has been heated.

Minority groups held a conference at the Texas Capitol on Tuesday and said affirmative action is necessary to right historic wrongs. They argued that underprivileged minorities remain underprivileged if they can’t attend flagship universities. And they argued that diversity in the classroom will help students deal with diversity in the real world.

But Lino Graglia, a constitutional law professor at UT who specializes in race and education (and is no stranger to controversial remarks on the topic), says affirmative action won’t fix this. He says the real problem is that many minority students aren’t ready for college when they graduate high school.

“Except for this performance gap, I think we wouldn’t have race problems,” Graglia said. “We certainly wouldn’t have race preferences, which unfortunately doesn’t address it in any way, but attempt to hid it, to pretend as if the gap’s not there.” 

That argument doesn't sit well with state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, who leads the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. He argues that regardless of any achievement gap  – which affirmative action proponents say is exacerbated by decades of historical discrepancies – Texas schools should reflect the state's makeup. 

“The true challenge for Texas higher education isn’t race, it’s access, and we know that when you look at the growing population of our state, our college campus classrooms do not reflect the population of our state,” Fischer says.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s mission in this case is not to close the achievement gap in high schools, but only to determine whether it is constitutional to consider race in state college admissions.

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