How college affirmative action affects business

Students walk across the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles, Calif. As the Supreme Court considers affirmative action, businesses are weighing in -- in favor. They say it creates a diverse, educated workforce.

The Supreme Court reconvenes with a docket that includes business cases involving antritrust and workers' issues. But one case that could have a long-lasting impact on business doesn't even involve a company. It's Fisher v. the University of Texas.

Abigail Fisher was a white student who was rejected by the University of Texas. She claimed it was because of her race and sued the school over the legality of affirmative action. Among those siding with the university in briefs to the Supreme Court are scores of Fortune 500 companies. Why have they weighed on affirmative action in higher education?

"They are looking at the pipeline," says Gerald Torres, a law professor at the University of Texas in Austin. "And the university represents their pipeline for building out their workforce."

Dozens of companies said that to thrive globally, they need diversity. Walmart submitted one of the briefs. A company spokesman told Marketplace that Walmart needs workers from different cultures so it can compete and serve its customers. Walmart was joined by the likes of Starbucks, General Electric and Shell Oil.

Pamela Harris, a visiting professor at Georgetown law center, says she was impressed at the variety of companies that weighed in--from multinationals to small businesses.

"It really wasn’t clear until these briefs were filed that the business community had come to a very consensus understanding of the importance of diversity," she says.

Will the business briefs make a difference to the court? "That is the million dollar question," says Harris. She says briefs like this do often hold a lot of weight, but predicts the court will strike down affirmative action.

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.

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