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Harvard Urges Supreme Court to Keep Affirmative Action | This Week in Admissions News

29 JUL 2022

The world of college admissions is ever-changing and for students with top university ambitions, it’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest developments. This week, Harvard urged the Supreme Court to uphold its prior decision to support affirmative action and reject a lawsuit requesting to ban race-conscious admissions. Check back next week to see what’s new and noteworthy in university admissions!


Harvard Calls on the Supreme Court to Keep Affirmative Action in College Admissions

In a brief sent to the Supreme Court on Monday, Harvard made a forceful defense of the Court’s prior decision supporting affirmative action and urged the Court to reject a lawsuit that aims to ban race-conscious admissions.

The filing comes in response to a May brief filed by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), suing Harvard and the University of North Carolina (UNC) over their race-conscious admissions policies.

SFFA claims Harvard discriminates against Asian-American students, assigning them lower ratings on leadership and likability, while automatically giving preferences to Black and Hispanic applicants. As a result, SFFA has asked that past precedents upholding race-based admissions be overturned.

In the 64-page brief, Harvard dismissed SFFA's allegation that its admissions process violates the Fourteenth Amendment. “Nothing in the text or history of the Fourteenth Amendment suggests that universities must uniquely exclude race from the multitude of factors considered in assembling a class of students best able to learn from each other,” the brief stated.

According to the brief, Harvard is fully compliant with the holdings of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, Grutter v. Bollinger, and Fisher v. University of Texas — three landmark Supreme Court cases permitting the use of race in college admissions.

Harvard argued those cases were correctly decided and called on the court not to adopt a color-blind admissions policy. “Those decisions were correct then and remain correct today,” the brief states. “Our Constitution promises ‘equal protection of the laws.’ It does not require us to disregard the commonsense reality that race is one among many things that shape life experiences in meaningful ways.”

"I encourage everyone to read the brief," Harvard president Lawrence S. Bacow said. “We remain steadfast in our belief that every college and university must retain the freedom and flexibility to create the diverse educational communities that will prepare their students for the opportunities and challenges they will confront in an increasingly diverse society.”

The SFFA filed the first lawsuit against Harvard in 2014, alleging the College's race-conscious admissions policy violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits federally funded institutions from discriminating against people based on their race, color, and national origin. The group filed a similar lawsuit against the University of North Carolina.

Lower courts have ruled in favor of both Harvard and UNC.

Initially, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the lawsuits together in January, but separated them last week, allowing Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to participate. Following her six-year tenure on the university's board of overseers, the newest justice is not participating in the Harvard case to avoid a potential conflict of interest.

On the same Monday, the University of North Carolina also submitted a brief with similar arguments, emphasizing that it only considers race or ethnicity if a student chooses to share that information.

Despite affirmative action being common at selective universities, nine states, including California and Florida, bar race-conscious admissions at public universities.

All amicus briefs in support of Harvard and UNC are to be submitted to the Supreme Court by August 1. The NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and 25 Harvard student and alumni groups, have already filed amicus briefs calling on the Court to uphold affirmative action. SFFA is due to respond on August 24.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case this fall.

Other top stories in admissions news this week:

  • Fortune reports UC Berkeley's Haas business school (the second-oldest and among the best-known business schools in the US) will be expanding its 2-year undergrad business program to a 4-year program "thanks to a $30 million donation — the largest donation the school has ever received." According to the school's assistant dean of undergraduate programs, "The four-year experience will allow our students to focus on being students and learning, rather than devoting time to a very competitive application process halfway through their college experience."
  • According to a PIE News report, the UK and India have agreed to officially recognize each other’s higher education qualifications, meaning graduates of UK institutions will be able to apply for postgraduate qualifications or embark on careers in the public sector in India, which will likely draw many more Indian students to the UK. The story notes recent UCAS data found applications to UK unis from students in India increased by 20% this year.
  • The LA Times reports the University of California system could increase seats for California students by as many as 33,000 by 2030 in part by reducing the number of offers to out-of-state and international students and giving those seats to Californians. At least half the growth would reportedly happen at UCLA, UC Berkeley and UC San Diego, all three of which have already begun replacing nonlocal students with California natives "with increased state support to cover the loss of higher tuition that nonresidents pay".
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