Fisher Case Justices, Will You Reinforce the False Promises of the Past or Help Expand Opportunity for All?


By Thomas Rudd,

In the Nation that we so desperately want to invent, it would be impossible to predict with any reasonable degree of accuracy the life chances of two new born babies—one of European ancestry; one of African ancestry.  In that country, every citizen has an equal opportunity to strive, to achieve, and to grow. There are no racialized obstacles to success embedded in the fabric of the society, or in its institutions, or in the attitudes of its people. What determines success is the child’s own capacity, agency, energy, volition, and the equal opportunity to fully develop the potential that resides within—to become all that is possible.

In that imagined country, we have bottled up the vestiges of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, ethnic persecution, and gender inequality and placed them where they belong—in history—so that they cannot circumscribe the future.  In that place, each person acknowledges the connection to every other person and everyone embraces the proposition that when opportunity is restricted for one group, everyone in the society is harmed.  This is a new America, a nation of the people, for the people, and by the people—all of the people.

How do we get there?  First, we weep for the millions of our brothers and sisters who were deprived of the opportunity to actualize their full potential in the old nation that was created out of a false promise and a distorted vision. Then, we seek the understanding of the forces that deprived individuals and communities of opportunity in that country and we shut down those forces to make a new country. We promise every newborn child that his or her pathway to success and fulfillment will not be strewn with the obstacles that may have confronted her father or her mother or her mother’s mother or any prior generation.  We embrace a true and sustained belief in the potential of every person to succeed and we commit the resources needed to give substance to that belief.  We empower the disempowered.

Your decision in the Fisher case will either reinforce the false promises of the past or move us closer to inventing a new America.  To think that racial neutrality will do anything more than preserve the injustice and the privilege of the past is a deception. Race has never been neutral in our country. The women and men who will lead us to a better America must fully represent all the citizens of the America we live in today.  If educational opportunity continues to tilt away from citizens of color, how can we ever fulfill the promise of a nation “indivisible with liberty and justice for all”?

If you can look at a new born baby today and believe in your heart that the opportunity for that innocent child to live a life that he or she and we have reason to value will not be influenced in any way by his or her race, then you are justified in finding for Fisher. But, if in your heart, you believe that opportunity in America today is skewed in any way by race, then you must uphold the constitutionality of the holistic admissions policy at the University of Texas and indeed at any and every college and university in this country so that we can get to the business of building that new country where every child of every color has equal opportunity to thrive, to achieve, to grow and to contribute.

Tom joined the staff of the Kirwan Institute in 2004. In his current capacity as Director of Education and Emerging Research, he is responsible for expanding the Institute’s research agenda on issues related to educational opportunity and envisioning and energizing new research in criminal justice, implicit bias and health/health care with a focus on the social determinants of health. Tom received a Bachelor of Science in sociology and a Master of Science in higher education, student affairs from Iowa State University. He has pursued doctoral study in educational policy and leadership at The Ohio State University. Prior to joining the staff at the Institute, Tom served on the professional staff of the Ohio Board of Regents where he directed the Department of State Grants and Scholarships and then served as Director of Student Financial Access in the division of educational linkages and access. Tom has worked extensively on issues related to strategies for improving access to higher education and the quality of preK-12 education. He recently completed a funded project aimed at broadening awareness of the ways in which traditional approaches to merit in the college admissions process have created barriers to educational opportunity, limited racial and ethnic diversity and obscured the democratic mission of the academy. Tom is originally from White Plains, New York. He is married to Dr. Nancy Rudd, a professor in the College of Education and Human Ecology at Oho State. He has three adult children. His youngest son is currently enrolled in a combined masters/doctoral program in biomedical engineering at Ohio State. Tom is an avid amateur photographer. Research interests: Structural and cognitive barriers to opportunity; education; criminal justice; health care; democratic merit; the meaning of race; racial discourse; race and cognition; implicit racial bias.