After much anticipation and preparation, President Gregory Fenves finally announced in August that the long-controversial statue of Jefferson Davis would come down. After a last-minute court challenge was unsuccessful, the depiction of the Confederate president was removed from its prominent place atop a pedestal at the Main Mall.
It was undoubtedly a cause for much celebration. I have opined in these pages many times in favor of the move. But the University need not lose sight of other, very real problems affecting students. Chief among these is the Supreme Court’s recent decision to put this University’s continued use of affirmative action in jeopardy.
Three years ago, Abigail Fisher — a disgruntled one-time prospective student who blamed her rejection from UT on affirmative action — and her case against this University reached the Supreme Court. Fisher and her lawyers, namely Edward Blum, argued that the use of race-conscious admissions violated the Constitution.
The Supreme Court punted on the case, sending it back to the federal appeals court. But after the Fifth Circuit reaffirmed UT’s use of affirmative action in 2014, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to rehear the case earlier this year.
“Under the Supreme Court’s existing precedent, the University’s commitment to using race as one factor in an individualized, holistic admissions policy allows us to assemble a student body that brings with it the educational benefits of diversity for all students,” Fenves said in a statement at the time.
But many contend that the Supreme Court will beg to disagree with Fenves’ reasoning. Assuming for the sake of argument that Justice Anthony Kennedy and the court’s four conservative justices do, in fact, disagree, the consequences will be nothing short of disastrous. According to a study by Princeton University, college enrollments among people of color, particularly at the most selective universities, would be gutted. It shows that the number of both black and Hispanic students would be more than halved.
Admittedly, this University will be able to ensure some diversity through other means, namely the continuation of the Top 8 Percent rule. But affirmative action is still absolutely needed, and its removal would be nothing short of devastating.
Much ink has been penned on the topic of how detrimental the Davis statue was to students of color. And it was. But the elimination of affirmative action would be a travesty, not only for students on the 40 Acres, but from all over the country. Quite literally, this decision has the capacity to slam the doors of education shut on those who are not of privilege.
I was in the crowd on that fateful Sunday morning when the crane picked up the statue. I cheered. But I recognized that it was not the end of any type of struggle. Contrarily, it was only the beginning.
Horwitz is a government senior from Houston. Follow him on Twitter @nmhorwitz.