As you probably know, the justices of the United States Supreme Court delivered some major decisions in the final weeks of this year’s term. Two of these in particular have potentially significant and long-term impacts for this university and for higher education in general. Fisher v. Texas (challenging use of race in college admissions) and United States v. Windsor (challenging constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act), are both tied to our ability to foster and support a truly diverse campus community.
On Monday, June 24, the Court issued a decision in Fisher v. Texas, a case that challenged the University of Texas at Austin’s use of race in their undergraduate admissions process. The ruling has ordered a lower court to re-evaluate the case brought by Fisher, who claimed the university unconstitutionally discriminated against her as a white woman in denying her admission. The court did, however, uphold two previous rulings (Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger) that established a university’s educational interest in promoting diverse classes.
So, what this latest decision means to us and to public university admission processes is still unclear. We, along with our peers around the nation, are reviewing the decision and we will watch as the next steps play out in the case. We will respond appropriately as the law requires.
One day later, in United States v. Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s judgment that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. Section 3 of DOMA had defined “marriage” for purposes of federal law as a “legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word “spouse” refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” Illinois law currently does not recognize same-sex marriage; it does, however, recognize civil unions. Parties to a civil union may be of the same sex or the opposite sex, and they are entitled to the same legal obligations, responsibilities, protections and benefits as are recognized by the law of Illinois to spouses. The Supreme Court’s decision, however, does not affect parties to civil unions.
And as with Fisher, it is unclear at this early stage how the DOMA decision will affect personnel and students at the University of Illinois. Much will depend on how federal agencies and the Obama Administration implement the Court’s decision through regulations, guidance and other legal mechanisms. We will continue to monitor the situation and review any relevant rules, regulations, Executive Orders and guidance in order to assess the impact on the university community and to implement necessary changes affecting spouses.
Clearly both are major decisions with effects that will be felt through our society for decades to come and both will be the subject of intense public debate and analysis. I fully expect our community to be involved in these discussions, both as scholars and as educators. And it is also entirely possible that these cases will mean changes in some of our processes.
I want to be clear, however, that changing a process will not diminish our collective commitment to advancing the diversity of this university community. We will continue to develop a campus environment that welcomes different ideas, perspectives and beliefs because this diversity is the foundation for excellence in everything we will achieve as a university.
Earlier this year, the Academic Senate adopted this Diversity Values Statement: “We support diversity of worldviews, histories, and cultural knowledge across a range of social groups including race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, abilities, economic class, religion, and their intersections.”
These court rulings, and some that could follow, may influence how we deliver on this promise.
But nothing is going to change our commitment to this promise.
Around the Campus
Congratulations to Illinois student and Paralympian Tatyana McFadden for being nominated for the 2013 ESPYS' best female athlete with a disability.
Congratulations to all the Dean's List honorees and graduates for spring 2013 semester.