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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.