(Central Square) – The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in potentially landmark cases that question whether college and university admissions policies can stand.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that colleges can take race into account in admissions to help make their campuses more diverse. But now those policies are under fire at Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s oldest private and public schools, where opponents have filed a lawsuit.
UNC defended itself in oral arguments Monday, stressing that they are intentionally creating diversity along a range of metrics, including accepting more veterans and rural students, not just race.
Harvard pointed out in the report that admissions policies based on race have become common across the country.
“In recent years, research has shown that 41.5% of colleges and 60% of universities that accept 40% or fewer applicants take some account of race,” the school said in a legal filing.
All of these policies could be overturned, depending on the breadth of the court’s ruling.
“But public schools have no legitimate interest in maintaining a precise racial balance and no compelling interest in preventing minor declines in average SAT scores,” the court filing said. “The same Fourteenth Amendment that required public schools to desegregate after Brown cannot be intimidated by the dictates of university administrators. If California and Michigan can maintain elite public universities without classifying applicants by race, then so can North Carolina. This court should grant certiorari and reverse the district court.”
The lawsuit does not apply to all affirmative action programs on campus, just admissions.
Critics have raised concerns about race-based policies, saying they are inherently unfair and discriminatory. They also point out that policies penalize Asian groups who do not receive the same favorable treatment as other minorities.
“We’ve waited a long time for this huge wrong to be righted, and I hope the Supreme Court will finally do the right thing this time, with the first step starting today with the Harvard and University of North Carolina cases,” said Mike Gonzalez, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “Racial preferences are an injustice to people who should have been admitted to university but were rejected to make way for a candidate who was admitted because of his unchanging qualities.
“Racial preferences also harm children who are not at the same academic level as their peers because they entered only to meet a racial quota,” he added.
Other experts argued that the government and public schools should not be allowed to discriminate, but private institutions should.
“The government should not be treating people differently based on race, including at public universities like UNC,” said Neal McCluskey, an education expert at the Cato Institute. “But for centuries, governments have treated people differently based on race, particularly affecting African Americans. How do we minimize the damage without re-using the two injustices of government on race? Let private groups like Harvard use affirmative action if they think it’s right.”
Gonzalez said affirmative action policies don’t address the root causes that make those policies necessary in the first place.
“Affirmative action does not solve the problem of why members of certain groups may fall behind academically,” he said. “It doesn’t address poor public schools, socioeconomic status, family formation, or high out-of-wedlock birth rates that hold people back. Affirmative action does not offer solutions such as school choice, but by imperial decree stipulates that a certain percentage of the classroom must be filled with category X.’