Supreme Court Affirmative Action Ruling Won\'t Affect MU Admissions

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COLUMBIA - The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in its hearing of a case that could strike down affirmative action and prohibit the use of race as a factor in public universities' admissions decisions.  

But according to University of Missouri spokesman Christian Basi, MU does not have an enrollment cap, and race and ethnicity are not factors in admissions decision.  Thus, other than an affirmative action policy for employees, the MU has no affirmative action in place for the admissions procedure.

"We have academic requirements, which are posted on our website. Those academic requirements include ACT, your GPA and the fact that you have taken certain classes in your high school career," Basi said.

He affirmed scholarship criteria is different from that of enrollment. "The Supreme Court is looking at enrollment and admissions only, and we do not use race as a decision in our enrollment."

According to the MU registrar database, Fall 2011 enrollment at Mizzou included 2,277 African American students, 796 Asian students, 884 Hispanic students 134 American Indian students and 25,564 Caucasian students.  Another 458 belonged to some other group, and 749 did not specify race.

Broken down by state, behind Missouri and Illinois, Texas ranked third in the number of residents--702--who enrolled at MU as undergraduates in Fall 2011.  

For MU senior Britton Cunningham, this statistic underlines the premise for the Supreme Court case, Fisher v. University of Texas-Austin.  And, it's a question she said she wishes would have been ruled on when she applied to MU five years ago.  

"I love the education I've had at Mizzou, and I honestly couldn't have gotten it anywhere else, but it's one of those things that it worked itself out for me, but I know so many kids who would have loved to go to UT, but they didn't even bother--they didn't even try, because they knew it wasn't worth their time, it wasn't worth their money, just wasn't something where they wanted to put themselves out there knowing that they were going to get rejected," Cunningham said.

The argument in the case before the U.S. Supreme Court stems from Texas's 1997 "top 10 percent law," which guarantees the top 10 percent of students at Texas public high schools automatic admission into state-funded universities.  In 2009, in conjunction with high application numbers, the University of Texas-Austin rewrote its law to guarantee admission to only the top eight percent of students in Texas public high schools.

Under the "top 10 percent" law, Texas universities, specifically the University of Texas-Austin, attempted to indirectly diversify its student population.  Both Cunningham and Abigail Fisher, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case who was rejected from the University of Texas-Austin (UT) in 2008, argue the law is discriminatory. Because the "top 10 percent rule' does not take into account the academic caliber of the Texas public high school, students who achieved high grades (but were not in the top 10 percent)  at the more challenging schools argued they were at a disadvantage upon applying to UT.

Only eight justices will issue the ruling, which could take months.  Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case, as she formerly worked on the affirmative action case as solicitor general.  If the ruling ties at 4, the lower court ruling to uphold the law will stand.

If the justices rule in favor of Fisher, this case would overturn the 2003 Supreme Court decision made in Grutter v. Bollinger, in which the court found public universities have a "compelling interest in attaining a diverse student body sufficient to justify its consideration of race as part of its admissions process."