Two big cases are set to shake up the college admission process. The first involves the so-called “clout list” at the University of Illinois, which gave hundreds of well-connected students an edge in the admissions process. The story of the “clout list” broke 2 years ago and was a huge scandal, but the Unviersity is still dealing with litigation stemming from the case. The Chicago Tribune is requesting further data under the Freedom of Information Act (such as the admitted students’ GPAs and ACT scores) but the school is arguing they cannot release these records because the Federal Privacy Laws prohibit it from releasing personal information about students. Media Groups are arguing that the university is abusing FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) because it is not trying to protect admissions records, but trying to prevent investigation into its own wrongdoing. Basically the case comes down to privacy laws versus freedom of information laws, and according to the media advocates, the right of the public to know about this type of corruption far outweighs any privacy rights that might be invoked by persons on the “clout list” who side stepped the merit-based application process. As the case moves through the court system, judges have been ruling against the University and finding that details of the “clout list” should be divulged, putting the University in danger of losing federal financing for violating FERPA.
In addition, The Supreme Court is expected to take on the case of Abigail Fisher, a white student who claims she was denied admission to the University of Texas because of her race. Should the justices hear the case, it could mean a new ruling on the “meaning of diversity”, an overruling of the Grutter v. Bollinger decision, and the end of affirmative action at public schools. In the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger case the court ruled that public universities are allowed to consider race in admissions decisions if their reason for considering race is the “pursuit of diversity”. However, the makeup of the court has changed since 2003, and it is possible that the case will now be overturned. Should this happen, the case will have repercussions beyond its impact on college admissions (where the proportion of minority students at public institutions would be expected to drop), it might also begin to unravel societal commitment to diversity in private hiring.