AAVMC lends voice to affirmative action court case

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Diverse group of students sitting in a courtyard

The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges has joined an amicus brief filed in a case before the Supreme Court dealing with affirmative action.

The Association of American Medical Colleges joined nearly 30 other health education and professional organizations to file the amicus brief Aug. 13 in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. Oral arguments are scheduled for Oct. 10.

The case addresses UT-Austin’s policy of using race to evaluate in-state applicants who are not guaranteed admission by virtue of being in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating class.

Abigail Fisher, a white female, applied for undergraduate admission to UT-Austin in 2008. Because she did not qualify for automatic admission under Texas’s Top Ten Percent Law, she was competing against other in-state applicants under a system by which the university considered race as one factor in admissions to increase enrollment of Hispanic and African-American applicants. UT-Austin denied her application.

As of press time, 70 amicus briefs had been filed in support of the university while 15 had been filed supporting Fisher.

In deciding this case, the Supreme Court may revisit Grutter v. Bollinger, according to an AAMC press release. This was a 2003 lawsuit brought against the University of Michigan Law School, which held that the law school could properly consider race as one of many factors in its admissions processes.

In the brief, the AAMC urges the court not to overturn the 2003 Grutter decision, saying that doing so could jeopardize the holistic review process used by medical schools across the nation to diversify their student bodies.

The association argues that medical schools have an obligation to redress current disparities in health care, whereby minority patients tend to receive less and lower-quality care than others, and to serve all of society. Medical schools, it says, have learned over many decades of experience that these goals cannot be accomplished unless physicians are educated in environments that reflect the ever-increasing diversity of the society they serve.

Race is only one of a multitude of factors considered when evaluating applicants, the AAMC wrote. Further, test scores and grades help determine merit; however, “The goal is not mechanically to admit students based on numerical criteria or to mirror the country’s demographics, but rather to produce a class of physicians that is best equipped to serve all of society. ... Medical school administrators have found no other proxy that could substitute for individualized consideration of an applicant’s entire background.”

The AAMC also made mention of research that shows when physicians understand more about the diverse cultures of their patients, physician decision making is better informed, patients are more likely to follow their physicians’ advice, and medical outcomes improve.

Dr. Andrew Maccabe, AAVMC executive director, echoed the AAMC’s sentiments, saying, “The AAVMC affirms the value of diversity within the veterinary medical profession, and we support the use of holistic evaluation in admissions as one of many ways of achieving diversity in all of its aspects, including race and ethnicity. Admissions processes based on a holistic evaluation of candidates will help us to build cohorts of students with the experiences, backgrounds, and skills that will position the profession for continued success.”

The AVMA was not asked to join the amicus brief.