The high court’s decision to end race-conscious admissions practices at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill gives way to a number of legal objectives and admissions barriers that institutions they will have to overcome as they aim to diversify campuses. Here are three:
The legal battles over admissions may not be over
Blum, the head of Students for Fair Admissions which has successfully sued Harvard and UNC, says he is ready to challenge any school that might try to circumvent the law.
He threatened « to initiate litigation if universities defiantly challenge this clear ruling and the dictates of Title VI and the Equal Protection Clause. »
« Higher education administrators should note: The law will not tolerate direct proxies for racial classifications, » Blum said in a statement. « For those in management positions at public and private universities, you have a legal obligation to follow the letter and spirit of the law. »
Although Harvard and UNC have expressed their disappointment with the Supreme Court’s decision, they have recommitted to ensuring that students with different backgrounds, perspectives and lived experiences are allowed on their campuses. Both institutions said they would review the high court’s opinion to ensure their admissions policies are in accordance with the law.
« For nearly a decade, Harvard has vigorously defended an admissions system that, as established by two federal courts, fully complied with long-standing precedent, » the outgoing president said. Lorenzo Bacow said in a statement. « During the weeks and months ahead, drawing on the talent and experience of our Harvard community, we will determine how to preserve, consistent with the Court’s new precedent, our core values. »
The UNC chancellor shared a similar message on Thursday. “Carolina is committed to bringing together talented students with diverse perspectives and life experiences and making high-quality, affordable education accessible to people in North Carolina and beyond,” said Kevin M. Guskiewicz in a statement.
Pre-existing admissions and standardized tests under sifting
Harvard graduate Bobby Scott has called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate colleges that use « racially biased admissions tests and developmental and legacy admissions. » He said lawmakers need to review other college admissions requirements that could be racially discriminatory or have a disparate impact on underrepresented students.
“Race-conscious admissions policies have provided a counterweight to these discriminatory factors — such as unfair K-12 schools, racially biased admissions tests, and developmental and legacy admissions — that all marginalize students of color,” Scott said in a declaration. « Now that the Court has overturned that balance, I ask the Attorney General to immediately begin filing suits against any current school practices that violate the Equal Protection Clause and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act because they have a discriminatory impact. »
This isn’t the first time Scott has looked into legacy admissions, which offers admissions benefits to children of alumni, or standardized tests that have long been a part of undergraduate applications. Scott said a key problem with the oral arguments in affirmative action cases was that the judges did not consider how using these requirements would affect underrepresented students.
Blum, an unlikely ally, has also urged elite universities to end policies that favor legacy admissions.
« For decades, our nation’s most elite universities have favored the children of alumni, faculty and staff, athletes and, especially, major donors, » Blum said in a statement. “Elimination of these preferences is long overdue and SFFA hopes these views will compel higher education institutions to end these practices.”
Blum stopped short of saying he plans to file a lawsuit on these factors. In a press conference, in response to a POLITICO question, Blum said « legacy preferences are not actionable in court, » adding that he won’t challenge standardized tests either.
Race-neutral admissions policies in high schools may be next
The future of race-neutral admissions policies in competitive public schools could also be decided by the Supreme Court as a case involving a highly selective Virginia magnet high school makes its way through the courts.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision in May, determined that the Fairfax County School Board’s admissions policy for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology did not have a disparate impact on Asian American applicants. It reversed a lower court ruling that had found in favor of parents suing over the policy that overhauled the school’s stringent admissions process to improve the participation potential of underrepresented students.
Asra Nomani, the co-founder of Coalition for TJ, which was founded by parents to fight the school’s new policy, said their case is the next step in eliminating racial bias in admissions and found the court’s ruling Supreme encouraging to their cause.
« It’s such an important message to the country that racism is not acceptable and we can’t use Asian Americans as a scapegoat, » Nomani said. “Race-neutral admissions are just another word for racism. … This is the next frontier for legal challenges.
Nomani said the group expects to file its appeal in August and hopes to take their case to the Supreme Court.
Kierra Frazier contributed to this report.