APS News

Physicists Pen Letter to Supreme Court on Diversity in Physics

Note addresses comments from Supreme Court Justices in affirmative action case

December 16, 2015 | Emily Conover

"What unique perspective does a minority student bring  to a physics class?" That was the question posed by Chief Justice John  Roberts during oral  arguments in a Supreme Court case on affirmative action policies in  university admissions on December 9. Now, nearly 2000 physicists have signed  a letter to the Supreme Court addressing that question, and rejecting a  suggestion, posed by Justice Antonin Scalia, that black students might be  better served by lower-tier schools.

The case, Fisher v. University of Texas, addresses  whether affirmative action admissions policies at the University of Texas at  Austin discriminate against white students and whether this policy resulted in  the plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, a white woman who applied in 2008, being unfairly  rejected from the university.

In remarks that have drawn condemnation from  African-American and civil-rights groups, Scalia said, "There are those  who contend that it does not benefit African-Americans to get them into the  University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to  a less-advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well."

The letter responds to the two judges, saying, "The  process of scientific discovery is a human endeavor that benefits from removing  prejudice against any race, ethnicity, or gender."

The letter continues, "The rhetorical pretense that  including everyone in physics class is somehow irrelevant to the practice of  physics ignores the fact that we have learned and discovered all the amazing  facts about the universe through working together in a community. The benefits  of inclusivity and equity are the same for physics as they are for every other  aspect of our world."

APS President Sam Aronson also released a  statement on the issue.