SCOTUS Talked about UT Admissions Behind Closed Doors Thursday. Tuesday We Learn What They Decided.

In a private session yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether to allow a new appeal against the University of Texas in the Abigail Fisher reverse discrimination case. We should hear what they decided next Tuesday.

The Wall Street Journal suggested a couple days ago that a decision by the court to take up Fisher again could be colored by facts from the admissions scandals revealed by UT Regent Wallace Hall of Dallas:

“The arbitrary and capricious nature of UT admissions was underscored in recent months,” the Journal said, “by the discovery that UT president Bill Powers ran his own secret admissions process that set aside certain applicants for special review.”

They’re talking about one of the several scandals at UT unearthed when Hall, a Governor Rick Perry appointee, started making demands for documents and information from UT brass. You may remember that the UT brass and a cabal of powerful legislators tried to have Hall impeached and criminally indicted, both of which efforts failed. Then a major external investigation confirmed that everything Hall had said was going on at UT was, in fact, going on at UT.

An article this week in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Richard D. Kahlenberg lays out the very peculiar logic UT has used in recent chapters of the Fisher case to defend its admissions process. By UT’s own top 10 rule, the top 10 percent of students in any high school graduating class in Texas were guaranteed admission. Kahlenberg recounts that the rule worked well. It provided the university with a diverse student body, and the kids admitted fared well at the university.

But UT told the court the top 10 rule wasn’t enough. The university said it needed to fiddle the system some more in order to make sure it was recruiting not just minority students but affluent minority students. In so doing, UT seemed to be creating a new protected class – rich minorities who needed protection from policies designed for poor minorities.

An article this week in National Review accuses UT of using the weird minority argument as an excuse to introduce race-based criteria where they are not needed. The suggestion is that UT is so liberal it can’t help itself: Race-based criteria are its institutional crack cocaine.

But National Review, which has done a great job covering the Hall matter, knows way better. It knows the rich minority kid line was cover for the thing the Powers back-door admissions process was really looking for – any kid of any ethnicity who was wired to a powerful state legislator who could do Powers a favor. According to the external investigation, the way you got in through the Bill Powers door was with a legislative bill in your shirt pocket.

It’s hard to know where all that leaves the Abigail Fisher case, which has been rebuffed by the court, reheard by a lower court and denied again. This effort to persuade the Supreme Court to allow it to be reopened feels like a last gasp. Is there anything unconstitutional about mere venality, as long as it’s not race-based venality? Could the Supreme Court just get pissed off at UT?

All we can know for sure is this: If the Fisher case does get revived, everybody who had anything to do with admissions at UT in the last 10 years ought to be ridden out of Austin on a rail.
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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze