SAN DIEGO — I have a list of things I want to teach my kids – ages 3, 5 and 7. Near the top is this:
There will be disappointments in life. Count on it. You’re not going to get everything you want. There will be times when you compete for something and you come up short. Winning is easy. It’s how you respond to losing that matters. Take a deep breath and resolve to work harder. Know that you got beat, fair and square. Don’t be a victim, and don’t blame anyone else for your failure. Otherwise, you will have failed twice.
Apparently, 22-year-old Abigail Fisher never learned this lesson. If she had, it might have saved us all a lot of trouble – and freed up a spot on the docket of the Supreme Court.
In 2008, Fisher was denied admission to the University of Texas. She sued, claiming the school discriminated against her because she’s white.
That’s loony. But, lucky for Fisher, in America, there is a constituency for looniness. There are plenty of Americans who, in the era of affirmative action, believe that white people are being shoved to the back of the bus and systematically disenfranchised just like Latinos and African-Americans were in the last century. For people who embrace this thinking, it’s a short walk to also believing that minorities have it easier than whites.
Mitt Romney told an audience at a fundraiser in Boca Raton, Fla., that – if he were Latino – he’d have a better shot at winning the presidential race. As if being white holds him back.
Many Americans never liked the idea of race and ethnicity being part of the admissions process for colleges and universities. And they like it even less as time goes on. Polls routinely find that most Americans oppose taking race and ethnicity into account.
Much of the blowback is probably coming from folks who feel that white students are being discriminated against in the admissions process.
This argument would be more compelling if there weren’t a steady stream of white applicants being admitted each year to colleges and universities across the country. Still, when you think you’re entitled to more, you’re not going to settle for less.
Who knows? You might even get a hearing before the Supreme Court, which has been down this road twice before.
In 1978, in the case of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the justices struck down a racial set-aside program at UC Davis Medical School but allowed race to be taken into account as one of several factors. And in 2003, in Grutter v. Bollinger, the court upheld the admissions policy at the University of Michigan Law School, saying the school had a compelling interest to obtain a “critical mass” of minority students and that a race-based approach was fine if other factors were considered.
Now, in Fisher v. University of Texas, where the justices recently heard oral arguments, the court will have to decide whether the flagship institution of the public university system in the Lone Star State went too far in trying to admit more Latino and African-American students to keep pace with the state’s changing demographics.
Texas is 12 percent African-American and 38 percent Latino. The student body at the University of Texas at Austin – with its 52,000 students – is just 4.5 percent African-American and 18 percent Latino.
To improve those numbers, UT has a policy where 75 percent of the slots go to students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class, but the remaining 25 percent go to students admitted under a process that weighs several factors including race and socioeconomic status.
Big deal. A quarter of the students are admitted according to guidelines that the Supreme Court has already ruled, twice before, are permissible. Where is the infraction?
Fisher attended Louisiana State University and graduated a few months ago. Let’s hope that, in college, she took a math course. Because then she might finally be able to understand what happened to her.
Even if UT Austin scrapped its diversity program tomorrow, and filled the whole entering class with students drawn from the top 10 percent of their high schools, she still would not have been admitted. She graduated in the top 12 percent. So she missed the numerical cutoff.
Sure, that’s disappointing. But it’s not discrimination.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for U-T San Diego. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.