A Victory for Affirmative Admissions-Fisher v. UT at Austin

Monday, August 4, 2014


I emphasize in all of my writing and speeches that the solution to America’s competitiveness problem is to activate the hidden workforce of young men and women who have traditionally been underrepresented in STEM careers—African Americans, American Indians, and Latinos. Access to quality K-12 STEM education is key to preparing underrepresented minority young people for undergraduate education and beyond in STEM. Equally important is the aggressive recruitment, enrollment, education, retention, and graduation of increasing numbers of African American, American Indian, and Latino women and men by our nation’s engineering schools. NACME’s comprehensive portfolio of strategies across the continuum from middle school to workforce entry is designed to support this national imperative. This is why NACME has taken a stand against the anti-affirmative action movement in college admissions. We view this movement as yet another barrier being erected that will make it even more difficult to tap this source of talent.

On Tuesday, July 15, supporters of affirmative admissions policy in higher education were pleased when a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the University of Texas at Austin’s consideration of race as one of the many factors in its admissions policy. Two key perspectives on the ongoing legal challenges to affirmative admissions policy in higher education help to level-set this issue.

First, from the legal opinion of Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham:

“We are persuaded that to deny U.T. Austin its limited use of race in its search for holistic diversity would hobble the richness of the educational experience in contradiction of the plain teachings of Bakke and Grutter.”

Second, from the reaction to the ruling by William C. Powers Jr., the president of the University of Texas at Austin:

“This ruling ensures that our campus, our state and the entire nation will benefit from the exchange of ideas and thoughts that happens when students who are diverse in all regards come together in the classroom, at campus events and in all aspects of campus life.”

The Supreme Court held in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) that student body diversity is a compelling governmental interest that can justify the use of race-conscious admissions in higher education. The University of Michigan Law School was permitted to use race as a factor in seeking a diverse student body, because the school deemed diversity essential to its educational objectives. In the present case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the plaintiff sought to undermine the Court’s significant and now well-established precedents, including its landmark 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger.

The admissions policy at issue in Fisher has two components: Most University of Texas at Austin students are admitted under a state law (the “Top 10 Percent Plan”), which requires the institution to admit all students who rank in the top 10 percent of their high school class. For the remainder of the class, the university undertakes a holistic “whole-file” review of applications. This process allows the school to consider additional criteria, such as essays, leadership qualities, extracurricular activities, awards, work experience, community service, family responsibilities, socio-economic status, languages spoken in the home, and—as of 2005—race. After the University of Texas at Austin added the consideration of race into its individualized admissions policy, African American enrollment grew by more than 21 percent. It is this modest consideration of race alongside a host of other factors that was at issue in the Supreme Court.

Leading corporations filed amicus briefs laying out the business case for diversity in Grutter. These arguments proved influential with the Court. Today, the business case for diversity is even more settled than it was at the time of Grutter. In the Fisher case, it was critical to convey to the Supreme Court that corporate America is opposed to any dilution of the diversity efforts that were found lawful in Grutter.

My July 31, 2012 communication to the NACME Board of Directors on this matter cited 25 corporations as having agreed to sign on to an amicus brief supporting the actions of the University of Texas at Austin by the filing deadline of August 13, 2013. I counted eight NACME Board Companies among this initial group of 25. This corporate amicus brief was part of a broad coalition supporting the University of Texas at Austin’s race-conscious admissions policy, including numerous other colleges and universities, religious organizations, social science scholars, and leading civil rights organizations.

Alas, in 2013 the Supreme Court decided in a 7-to-1 ruling to vacate the decision by the appeals court and to force colleges to prove that they had tried every conceivable race-neutral admissions policy before introducing a limited consideration of race. The justices remanded the case and to the Fifth Circuit, requiring the lower court to re-examine the holistic, “whole-file” review policy in operation at the time at the University of Texas at Austin.

NACME’s voice has been heard in the various anti-affirmative action cases to come before the Supreme Court. An American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)/NACME conference, organized in response to the Court’s decision in Grutter, resulted in a joint AAAS/NACME publication, Standing Our Ground, a guide for educators seeking diverse student bodies, while complying with the requirements of the Grutter decision. On January 15, 2008, 35 invited experts, comprising the academic, nonprofit, and business communities, gathered in Washington, D.C., to discuss the ongoing legal threats to diversity in higher education Science and Technology (S&T) programs at a roundtable organized by AAAS and NACME, and with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Dr. John Brooks Slaughter, former president and CEO of NACME, wrote several op-ed articles and policy papers on the issue, and NACME joined the amicus briefs in the Grutter v. Bollinger and Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.

As expected, the lawyers for Abigail N. Fisher have asked the full U.S. Supreme Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to overturn the July 15, 2014 decision by a panel three of its judges in favor of the University of Texas at Austin. It is almost certain that the matter will once again be litigated before the Supreme Court.



STEM Leadership Forum 2014


Thursday, June 26, 2014

We recently completed a very successful NACME Board of Directors Meeting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The meeting was sponsored by Johnson Controls, Inc. An exciting feature of the board meeting was the STEM Leadership Forum. Key stakeholders from the Milwaukee Public Schools, including students, parents, teachers, guidance counselors, and administrators; area universities; the business community; nonprofits; and philanthropy convened on Wednesday, June 4, 2014 to explore the implications of the “New” American Dilemma. NACME defines the “New” American Dilemma as the underrepresentation of African Americans, American Indians, and Latinos in STEM education and careers and the requirement to reverse this situation if America is to compete successfully in STEM on the global stage.

Milwaukee is an exciting setting for innovations in STEM education. With the nation’s largest concentration of K-12 public schools engaged in the Project Lead the Way (PLTW) curriculum, a local community college with strong STEM programs, several excellent engineering schools, and the presence of global engineering and technology companies like Johnson Controls, Inc., it is not surprising that the conversations at the STEM Leadership Forum were robust. We were really impressed with the large number of public school students in the audience and the quality of their questions and the energy they displayed for STEM education. The next generation of African American, American Indian, and Latino women and men engineers will come out of Milwaukee.

As a courtesy, our host company, Johnson Controls, has provided video footage of the entire STEM Leadership Forum. The Forum can be viewed by clicking on to our YouTube channel.

Have a great summer!

Equal Educational Opportunity, 60 Years After Brown V. Board of Education


Monday, June 2, 2014

On May 17, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision turned 60. On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that racial segregation in our nation’s public schools was unconstitutional. Six decades later, the struggle for equal educational opportunity is still not over.


A recent AP article cited conclusions from The Civil Rights Project at UCLA. An analysis of U.S. Education Department data found that “segregation has been increasing since 1990, and that black students nationally are substantially more segregated than they were in 1970.” The data also revealed that Latino students “…are more likely to attend school with other Latinos than black students are with other blacks.”

Nikole Hannah-Jones’ powerful article in the April 2014 issue of The Atlantic offers a disquieting view of the failure of segregated schools: “As a school’s Black population increases, the odds that any given teacher there will have significant experience, full licensure, or a master’s degree all decline. Teacher turnover at segregated schools is typically high. And Black students, overall, are less likely than any other group of students to attend schools with Advanced Placement courses and high-level classes like calculus.” This situation leads directly to the relatively low representation of underrepresented minorities (URMs) in the STEM fields. NACME’s analysis of NCES data confirms that URM students are not completing Calculus, Pre-Calculus, or other advanced mathematics courses in high school in sufficient numbers. While the majority of all high school students do not take Calculus, a solid percentage of White and especially, Asian/Pacific Islander students do complete these courses.

NACME’s comprehensive strategy of Scholarships and University Relations, Pre-Engineering Programs, Research and Program Evaluation, and Engineering Public Policy is needed now more than ever to combat this situation. Although our studies show that increases in URM participation in STEM have been achieved since our founding in 1974, the studies also reveal that progress has been marginal, neither steady enough nor substantial enough for the representation of minorities to approach parity with their presence in the U.S. population.

Against this background is the more positive and encouraging story of our NACME Scholars. Our NACME Scholars maintain an 84 percent retention rate over a five-year period. They have an average Grade Point Average (GPA) of 3.3 on a 4.0 scale. They complete internship experiences with world-class NACME Board Companies like Raytheon, Chevron, DuPont, and Dow to name a few, and accept full-time employment as engineers with many of these companies upon graduation.

To the Class of 2014, we offer our profound congratulations for your academic accomplishments and your passion for changing the world. We hope that you will find the time to mentor URM students in grades K-12, helping to ignite and sustain in them the excitement for the STEM disciplines that has propelled your success. Our children and youth desperately need role models and mentors. We also invite you to stay connected to NACME through Twitter and Facebook and through active participation in the evolving national NACME Alumni network through LinkedIn.

I leave you with the wisdom of our beloved Dr. Maya Angelou: “The horizon leans forward, offering you space to place new steps of change.”

Change the world!

NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering Gala



Monday, May 5, 2014

On the evening of April 29th, one of NACME’s long-time Partner Institutions, NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering, honored me with the i2e Vision Award during their annual gala. This award is given to leaders who help create opportunities for students. I was thrilled to receive this award on behalf of all the NACME staff who work diligently to ensure underrepresented minority students achieve their dreams in STEM education and careers.  

What was equally exciting for me was the opportunity to interact with so many of our NACME Scholars that attended this gala. I always take great pleasure in hearing about their exciting projects and their academic success. One student who served as a speaker during the event, Christine Pembroke (’14), a construction management major and NACME Scholar, shared the pride she felt in being named a NACME Scholar and also how much of an impact NACME’s support has had on her academic career. I felt so proud, as Christine shared this summer she will start a full-time job in engineering. Her story and those of all the scholars I get to meet, serve to validate why we at NACME do what we do.


 Pictured: Dr. McPhail, and NYU Polrtechnic School of Engineering, Dean of Engineering Katepalli Sreenivasan.


Pictured: NACME Scholar Christine Pembroke (’14), a construction management major, and Dr. McPhail.


Acceptance Speech:
Thank you. It is indeed, my great honor and privilege to accept the i2e Vision Award.
I accept this award, in part, to recognize the extraordinary journey of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, Inc., the organization where I serve as President and CEO.  For the past four decades, NACME has worked toward increasing the representation of African American, American Indian, and Latino young women and men in engineering education and careers. NYU Poly has been a strong and steady partner in this effort. On a personal level, my academic and professional life has been dedicated to ensuring diversity with equity at all levels of education for people of color. Thank you for validating that struggle with the Vision Award.  Back in 2010, I proudly served as the commencement speaker for NYU Poly and was awarded an honorary engineering degree from this fantastic institution.  NYU Poly has been a NACME partner going back to 1980, and NACME has supported 235 students with more than $840,000. I look forward to our continued support of NYU Poly Scholars and our work together.

I hope many of you will join us on October 15 when NACME celebrates its 40th Anniversary at an Awards Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria right here in New York City.  It will be an occasion to celebrate the achievements of our impressive Scholars, to thank our partners, to reflect on how far we have come and to recommit ourselves to achieving our goal of diversity with equity in engineering education and careers.  Thank you.

The 2013 NACME Symposium Research and Policy Journal

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

I am delighted to announce that the 2013 NACME Symposium Research and Policy Journal has been completed and is now available for download on This impressive document contains original research and introduces strategies that represent the kind of out-of-the-box thinking required to address the obstacles and opposition facing underrepresented minority students in STEM education and careers.

NACME’s decision to hold this event in our nation’s capital was intended to connect our outstanding research efforts and programs to the need for legislative action that would ensure impact. Policymakers require enhanced links between research and policy in order to avoid the kind of policies that are unlikely to attain their objectives.

The 2013 NACME Symposium Research and Policy Journal features research-based practices that are required to move the needle on advancing more successful underrepresented minority women and men into STEM education and careers. All speakers from the 2013 NACME National Symposium contributed to this journal, connecting their work in education, policy, and the workforce to the theme for this event, which was "Take Action: Changing STEM Education for Underrepresented Minorities through Research and Policy." Below are some of the countless highlights from this compilation:

Catalyzing the Pre-Engineering Pathway for URM Students – Vince Bertram, President and CEO of Project Lead the Way, highlighted several promising practices for K-12 education, including identifying and developing role models and internship opportunities with corporations, and exposing students to hands-on, engaging STEM curricula that will help them develop a richer understanding of their subject material. Kenneth Hill, President and CEO of the Chicago Pre-College Science and Engineering Program, focused on the importance of early intervention efforts between ages one through eight to properly develop the future STEM workforce. Bill Taylor, Associate Vice President of Network Engagement and Growth at the National Academy Foundation, highlighted how a high school career academy model holds the promise of increasing the number of underrepresented minorities who seek STEM careers.

The College Affordability Crisis – Justin Draeger, President of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, discussed important policy considerations in light of the current academic landscape, including the need to change how students repay their loans if the current debt levels persist. Tina Farrenkopf, Director of Programs at the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), examined the full circle of support model as a means of developing American Indian and Alaska Native talent in the STEM fields. Michele Lezama, Executive Director of The National GEM Consortium, discussed the disparity in student debt levels for underrepresented minorities in comparison to their peers, and the importance of providing funding to those individuals in need. Finally, Dr. Chad Womack, National Director of STEM Initiatives at UNCF, discussed the importance of empowering our youth to become innovators and entrepreneurs that will transform society.

The Mathematics Conundrum – Robert Moses, Founder and President of The Algebra Project, highlighted several interventions aimed at middle and high school students, including one that aims to enable students who enter high school performing in the lowest quartile on state or national mathematics achievement tests to graduate on time and to take credit-bearing college mathematics courses. Gregg Fleisher, Chief Academic Officer at the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI), showed the success of NMSI schools in improving student achievement, including a demonstrable increase in AP qualifying scores in English, math, and science for all students, including URMs. Vanessa Hill, Professor at Springfield Technical Community College, highlighted an approach that focuses on at-risk courses as opposed to at-risk students, and examines the role of the teacher in those courses with a high rate of failure. Finally, Dr. Nathan Klingbeil, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor at Wright State University, summarized the results of a first-year engineering course that substantially mitigated the effect of incoming math preparation on student success in engineering, which has the potential to double the graduation rate of engineering students at open access institutions.

Innovations in STEM Teaching and Learning – Dr. Jacqueline Fleming, Independent Researcher, highlighted several cutting-edge methods of teaching 21st Century students, including subliminal messages in PowerPoint slides and subliminal prompts in human-computer interaction, that have the potential to enhance the current classroom environment. Dr. Etta Hollins, Professor and Endowed Chair at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, focused on the concept of cultural congruence in instruction, which can facilitate deep knowing for K-12 underrepresented students. Dr. Jamie Bracey, Director of STEM Education, Outreach & Research and Founding Director of Pennsylvania MESA at Temple University’s College of Engineering, argued that STEM learning is not culture neutral, and that students’ engagement and motivation to persist in these subjects is tied to their sense of belonging and membership in these fields. Finally, Dr. Kelly Mack, Vice President for Undergraduate STEM Education, and Executive Director of Project Kaleidoscope, of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, recommended a departure from the traditional “fix-the-student” model of reform, and instead focuses on addressing the infrastructural barriers that are preventing URM success in the STEM subjects.

Keynote Speaker – Dr. Willard Daggett, Founder and Chairman of the International Center for Leadership in Education, provided a framework for teachers and organizational and instructional leaders to inform and guide learning and instruction.

Shaping Engineering Public Policy – Marilyn Berry Thompson, Chair of Federal Practice at MWW Group, highlighted NACME’s federal policy recommendations, including making certain that non-profit entities are recognized in federal legislation, making federal funds available for URM STEM scholars, and providing research opportunities for URM STEM scholars in federally designated centers of excellence and corporations. I discussed the paradigm shift that is occurring in the way we look at STEM teaching and learning with students of color, which should influence federal funding and STEM policy. Finally, Theodore Shaw, Professor of Professional Practice at Columbia University, discussed the historical context and implications of the Fisher vs. University of Texas, Austin case.

Ensuring a Diverse Engineering Workforce – Dr. Anthony Carnevale, Professor and Director of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, discussed the barriers that exist for pursuing a STEM career, including social structure, the structure of the labor market, and the values and interests of youth. Stephen Barkanic, Senior Vice President and Chief Program Officer for the Business-Higher Education Forum (BHEF), highlighted several promising initiatives, including the BHEF STEM Higher Education and Workforce Project, which aims to increase undergraduate student retention in the STEM disciplines and develop a national network to scale evidence-based practices through collaborations, along with several other needed objectives. Sue Barsamian, Vice President of Global Operations, Software, at the Hewlett-Packard Company, discussed connecting philanthropic goals to corporate objectives and missions, and provided a framework for mapping philanthropic initiatives to ROI. Finally, Mary Wright, Program Director for Jobs for the Future, highlighted the importance of community colleges, and recommends that these institutions utilize real-time labor market information to improve the information, counseling, and outreach they provide to students.

The 2013 NACME Symposium Research and Policy Journal serves as a call to action for policymakers to embrace the proven, effective approaches targeted to this hidden workforce of young men and women who have traditionally been underrepresented in STEM education and careers. We are extremely proud of its content, and encourage you download a copy and share it among your network.


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