At a time when the U.S. Census Bureau shows a rising multiracial majority, does it bode well for affirmative action or does it make the longstanding compromise on equity and the need for an integrated education that achieves diversity no longer necessary?

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling Monday on affirmative action did not answer that question in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, nor did the court squash the program.

Instead, the court in a 7-1 rule, handed down a tentative decision that sends the case back to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled against Abigail Fisher who claimed in 2008 that she was denied admission at UT-Austin because she is White and that the university’s race conscious policies undermined her qualifications. The high court said the lower court should reopen the case “under a correct analysis” because colleges, as Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion, must show “available, workable race-neutral alternatives do not suffice” before considering race in admissions. He called for a “careful judicial inquiry into whether a university could achieve sufficient diversity without using racial classifications.”

However, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who dissented, wrote in her opinion that the court missed the mark entirely.

“I have several times explained why government actors, including state universities, need not blind themselves to the still lingering, everyday evident effects of centuries of law-sanctioned inequality,” Ginsburg said. “Among constitutionally permissible options, I remain convinced, those that candidly disclose their consideration of race are preferable to those that conceal or obscure what drives them.”

Because of the far- reaching implications ending affirmative action has on colleges across the nation as well as public institutions that have affirmative action policies, Wayne County Community College District (WCCCD) will host a debate in mid-July at its downtown Detroit campus about the future of affirmative action and what the court ruling means for students coming from diverse backgrounds.

WCCCD Chancellor Dr. Curtis Ivery, reacting to the ruling, said it is important for educational institutions to lead the debate on an issue that will define the educational future of the nation as it becomes increasingly diverse, as well as America’s contribution to a diverse global workforce.

With more than 70,000 students, WCCCD is the largest urban community college in Michigan and the debate about affirmative action, according to Ivery, is a debate for everyone who has a stake in equity and diversity.

National studies have shown that Whites are twice as likely to enroll in institutions of higher learning than their Black, Latino and Native American counterparts. Most recently, the Census showed that 65 percent of Blacks and 80 percent of Latinos did not complete post-secondary education compared to 50 percent of Whites.

The debate at Wayne County Community College will feature some of the leading voices on both sides of the issue. Confirmed speakers already include attorney Godfrey Dillard, who was a lead attorney in the University of Michigan affirmative action case before the U.S. Supreme Court, and Henry Payne, conservative political columnist at the Detroit News.

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’ Conner gave perhaps one of the most definitive and insightful answers on the case for affirmative action in colleges when she wrote almost a decade ago that “classroom discussion is livelier, more spirited, and simply more enlightening and interesting” if students have “the greatest possible variant of backgrounds.”

E-mail bthompson@michronicle.com.

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