The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to hear a case involving the way universities administer affirmative action in admissions.
A decision in the case would solidify the way universities treat minority status and could change the makeup of Virginia Tech and other colleges in the nation.
Problems have arisen since the court last debated the issue in 1978. The decision outlawed racial quotas, but still allowed schools to consider race in admissions.
This left courts around the country to set up their own rules regarding affirmative action, leading to a number of contradictory decisions.
It is difficult to say definitively what the outcome might be, said Wayne Moore, an expert in constitutional law and a political science professor. However, there seems to be a trend toward race-neutral decisions, Moore said.
Such a decision would mean colleges would have to be colorblind in admissions, meaning race and ethnicity would not be taken into account.
Some colleges already have such policies. Other admissions systems give a point value to ethnicity and race, Moore said, treating them as plus factors like high SAT scores or participation in clubs.
In Virginia, no decision has been made against affirmative action plans that use race as a plus factor, he said.
The cases to be debated by the Supreme Court concern white applicants to the University of Michigan who believe they were turned down because of their race.
The multiple and differing decisions by courts across the country is part of the reason for the Supreme Court?s involvement in the case, Moore said.
Hopefully, the Supreme Court will give clearer guidelines to the lower courts, he said.
?It is very understandable that the legal definition and interpretation may be up in the air,? said Ben Dixon, vice president of multicultural affairs.
The country is in a state of limbo, Dixon said, because states are left to reinterpret the 1978 case. Institutions also have to interpret the existing
decision when creating policies, he said.
It is important to look at the larger picture, Dixon said, including the future of the institution, state and nation.
If everyone in the Commonwealth does not have access on an equitable basis, it will severely impair the university and state?s abilities to attain excellence, he said. Attaining excellence requires institutions to embrace inclusion, he said.