Group files another lawsuit against UT over racial discrimination during admissions


AUSTIN (KXAN) — A group is suing the University of Texas at Austin again over claims that the school used racial preferences in its admissions, a violation of the Texas Constitution.

The Students for Fair Admissions filed a suit this week in Travis County District Court, naming UT Chancellor James Milliken, President Gregory Fenves and each of the Regents on the UT board as defendants. 

The group, which says it is a voluntary membership organization with more than 20,000 members, filed the lawsuit on behalf of two new members who they say faced discrimination during the admission process at UT in 2018 and 2019. They say that UT’s use of “racial preferences in admissions” violates protections set up in Texas law. 

SFFA filed an almost-identical lawsuit in 2017 that was recently dismissed by a Travis County District judge for lack of standing. The court allowed the group to refile a suit against the school on behalf of two new members. 

In the latest lawsuit, the group says UT asks applicants to classify themselves from six predefined racial categories:

  • Hispanic or Latino 
  • American Indian or Alaska Native 
  • Asian 
  • Black or African American
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
  • White

“The categories are, by their nature, arbitrary in many respects and fail to serve any educational purpose,” they wrote. “Given the limited number of places in UT Austin’s freshman class, granting a racial preference to African American and Hispanic applicants diminishes the chances of admission for White and Asian applicants.” 

In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld UT’s use of race in narrow circumstances when granting admissions. The Court’s opinion in the case was that UT “must continue” to use race as a factor to achieve fairness in admitting new students but it is the school’s obligation to continue to reflect on admissions policies. 

UT Spokesperson J.B. Bird told KXAN in an email that the university had not yet received the new lawsuit.

“We agreed with the judge’s decision to dismiss SFFA’s previous lawsuit, and we remain confident in the lawfulness and constitutionality of UT Austin’s holistic admissions policy, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 2016,” Bird wrote. 

UT displays a breakdown of racial and ethnic student groups on its website. According to this breakdown, the Fall 2018 student body is broken down as

  • 41.1% — White
  • 20.9% — Hispanic
  • 19 % — Asian
  • 10.1% — Foreign 
  • 4% — Black 
  • 2.6% — Two or more (excluding Hispanic/ Black)
  • 1.2% — Unknown 
  • 0.8% — Black (2 or more) (excluding Hispanic) 
  • 0.1% — American Indian
  • 0.1% — Hawaiian/ Pacific Islander 

SFFA is a voluntary membership group that they say was “formed for the purpose of defending human and civil rights.”

The group filed similar suits against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 2014. They are waiting on an opinion from Boston federal court in the lawsuit against Harvard. A February investigation by student-run “The Harvard Crimson” revealed SFFA has historically garnered much of its funding from two conservative trusts — the Searle Freedom Trust and DonorsTrust. 

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