What's next for affirmative action?
The message from the U.S. Supreme Court's decision yesterday in Fisher v. University of Texasis pretty clear. Race-based affirmative action is still around. But just for now.
As early as the Court's next term in fact, there is another high profile Michigan case ready to play a central role in what is still an active fight over affirmative action's future.
Affirmative action, similar to past de-segregation efforts like bussing, may be an inelegant solution. But segregation was not pretty either. It remains difficult for society to agree on solutions to the very serious problems affirmative action was meant to fix.
Of all the different brands of inequality we have; race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, inequality based on race was the thing that most bound up in our laws and policies. Statistically we still haven't shaken this inequality, but the Court is clearly almost over dealing with it constitutionally.
Right now, however, colleges and universities want diversity. They trumpet it in their mission statements, there's an academic journal dedicated to diversity in higher education. It's seen as a key ingredient in a special sauce of learning and experience that makes college a valuable experience and commodity.
Institutions are going to keep working to get a diverse student body, and they'll try all sorts of things. Colleges have already started experimenting with systems to increase diversity based on disadvantage instead of race, and these efforts are getting a lot of buzz as a move that could increase racial diversity, class diversity, and survive legal challenges.
If a more class conscious system can stomp out a bit more of the inequality out there in higher education it would be difficult not to welcome such a change. It is difficult to see however, how such an approach could trickle down to the primary and secondary schools where inequality is so deeply embedded.