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Defying Supreme Court, Colleges Fight To Preserve Race-Based Admissions

Newsweek – Last week, the Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, passed a resolution declaring that the prominent state school “shall not unlawfully discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, disability, genetic information, or veteran status in its admissions, hiring and contracting.”

If you think UNC sounds like it just lost a high-profile lawsuit, you would be correct. In June, UNC was a losing co-defendant in the landmark Supreme Court case banning race-based college admissions. The case combined two separate lawsuits, against UNC and Harvard University, arguing that the practice violates constitutionally guaranteed equal protections. The Court agreed, but Chief Justice John Roberts added the caveat that a school could still consider “an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.”

If compliance with the law of the land is resounding in Chapel Hill, other institutions are doubling down on their commitment to race-based “diversity.” Some were seeking ways to get around the Supreme Court’s ruling before it even came down. In April, Shannon Gundy, then the assistant vice president for enrollment management at the University of Maryland and now its director of undergraduate admissions, assured a session of the American Council on Education’s annual meeting that “our intention is to be ready to hit the ground running when the decisions are released” and to “educate” secondary students, school counselors, and teachers writing recommendation letters to emphasize race “in a holistic fashion when a student is telling you about themselves and how their race has impacted them.” In these statements, Gundy appeared to suggest that diversity bureaucrats are preparing to find new and more creative ways to solicit racial information from applicants and, possibly, to continue offering admission on that basis.

Gundy may wish to consult her university’s general counsel about the legal meaning of intent, but some observers have suggested that ideologically committed institutions may simply ignore the Supreme Court ruling in hope that the time and expense of civil litigation will dissuade critics from taking legal action. Others believe the admissions process will become more opaque, allowing institutions to avoid legal liability by hiding or disguising the use of race in their considerations.

The latter tactic seems to be on the drawing board at Massachusetts’ Mount Holyoke College. Newly installed president Danielle R. Holley, a black female legal academic described on the college’s website as “an expert on diversity in the legal profession and higher education,” told the New York Times that admissions “will have to” become more opaque. Holley even mused about a possible new application question along the lines of “One of the core values of Mount Holyoke College is diversity of all kinds. Please tell us why you value it, and what you think you bring to the Mount Holyoke community in terms of diversity.” Naturally, such a question would invite minority candidates to signal their race to Mount Holyoke admissions officials, who could then make de facto race-based decisions without leaving evidence that race was a factor.

Holley’s potential chicanery matches the approach already employed by Johns Hopkins University, where applicants for Fall 2024 are newly prompted to submit a “supplemental essay” to “tell us about an aspect of your identity (e.g. race, gender, sexuality, religion, community, etc.) or a life experience that has shaped you as an individual.” Tellingly, race is listed first, and responses are limited to a bare 300 words, suggesting that this new exercise’s true purpose is to allow minority applicants to signal their race to admissions personnel who may react sympathetically but without creating firm evidence that they used race as an admissions factor.

Harvard, UNC’s losing co-defendant in the Supreme Court case, is somewhat more circumspect, but seized directly onto Roberts’ escape clause when it announced “the Court also ruled that colleges and universities may consider in admissions decisions ‘an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.’ We will certainly comply with the Court’s decision.” An uncharitable reading of Harvard’s statement might lead one to the conclusion that the university intends to continue relying on race in admissions, albeit carefully and quietly.

Sarah Lawrence College, also quoting Roberts, invites applicants to “describe how you believe your goals for a college education might be impacted, influenced, or affected by the Court’s decision.” It is hard to imagine many black or Hispanic applicants to that far-left private college respond in a way that won’t inform its admissions officials of their race or ask them not to take it into account.

Not all elite schools are so careful, however. Last month, Columbia University Law School announced that all of its Fall 2024 applicants would be required to submit a 90-second video statement “to provide the Admissions Committee with additional insight into their personal strengths.” Many critics, including current Columbia law students, suspected that the video element was merely a way to view the physical appearance, and thus adduce the race, of applicants who could just as easily have written such a statement or taken more than a minute and a half to discuss their “personal strengths.” When the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news site, called out Columbia on the issue, the university almost immediately backed down, claiming that the video requirement was “inadvertently listed on the Law School’s website and has since been corrected.”

If the Supreme Court’s decision has not marked the categorical end of race in college admissions, the Columbia incident offers the best path forward. Bringing to light the apparent willingness to skirt the law was enough to get the school to change its practices. College administrators live in fear of adverse publicity and legal challenges. Americans concerned with fairness in college admissions should give them more of both.


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