Legal Brief Points to Science in Support of Diverse Learning Environments

Diverse learning environments clearly offer educational benefits to both minority and majority students, AAAS and seven other scientific societies wrote in a legal brief submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will soon hear a challenge to diversity-recruitment efforts by the University of Texas at Austin.

A “friend of the court” brief, submitted 13 August by the American Educational Research Association (AERA), summarizes peer-reviewed scientific evidence relevant to the Supreme Court case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. That case, initiated in 2008, challenges the university’s policy of using race as a factor in admissions decisions.

“Social science research has consistently found that diverse educational environments yield educational benefits to both minority and majority students,” the AERA said in a press statement regarding the legal brief.

“Recent research, which includes studies relying on increasingly sophisticated mathematical and statistical techniques, has built on an already strong base of scientific evidence supporting student body diversity,” the AERA statement continued. “Numerous studies demonstrate that student body diversity leads to important educational benefits such as the reduction of prejudice; growth in cognitive abilities, critical thinking skills, and self-confidence; the promotion of civic engagement and skills needed for professional development and leadership; and improved classroom environments and curricula.”

As it considers the constitutionality of the UT-Austin admissions policy, AERA Executive Director Felice Levine said, “the Court’s decision should be informed by reliable research findings.”

The plaintiff in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin contends that “promoting diversity in education is not a compelling governmental interest,” according to the AERA press statement. Yet, it was that “compelling interest” that led to the Court’s 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld the race-conscious admissions policy of the University of Michigan Law School. The plaintiff further argues that UT-Austin’s holistic admissions policy is not narrowly tailored to a diversity interest because the university already admits enough minority students through the state’s “top 10%” policy, which guarantees admission to a state university to high-ranking high school graduates in Texas.

In addition to the AERA and AAAS, the legal brief was co-signed by the American Sociological Association, the American Statistical Association, the Association for the Study of Higher Education, the Law and Society Association, the Linguistic Society of America, and the National Academy of Engineering.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case on 10 October. It is expected to release a decision before summer 2013. Additional information can be found on the AERA Web site.

Read the full amicus curiae brief in the case Abigail Noel Fisher v. the University of Texas at Austin et al.

Learn more about the American Educational Research Association (AERA).