SCOTUS Revisits Affirmative Action in Universities Has Implications for California Institutions

A few years ago, my wife and I embarked on a tour of college campuses with a high school-aged daughter in tow instead of the typical family summer vacation. Typically, each pre-arranged tour would include a campus tour offered by an upperclass student, who has been specially trained to walk backwards while simultaneously answering questions from anxious prospective students and their soon-to-be broke parents. This was followed by a meeting with a university official; most often a Dean of Admissions and/or Institutional Financial Officer to explain the application/admissions process and fair How? ‘Or’ What broke mom and dad were soon to be. In every presentation of every college we visited, the school representative was certain to emphasize that “our university prides itself on being the most diverse campus in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, orientation gender, religion, nationality, etc. represented for both students. and faculty.

At one particular Ivy League university in Ithaca, NY, the dean detailed the admissions process by outlining how the review of student applications would be conducted. The admissions team locked themselves in a room for several sessions and reviewed each application in front of them. About 10% of applications would be immediately placed in a pile for students who were confident of doing well in school, while 10% would quickly be relegated to the pile for students who were better looking to further their education elsewhere. The remaining 80% would be reviewed again and again until eventually all applications had found a place in their appropriate pile and the university had its cadre of students who, in this case, would be the class of 2012.

In the end, when questions were asked, my hand went up and my daughter reflexively slumped a little lower in her chair. “Dean So and So, I would like to go back to your opening statement where you proclaimed that the university is very proud of its diversity. I was wondering how this might affect the destination of student applications to the aforementioned stacks you detailed? My daughter collapsed a little lower and my wife was on her way to join her.

Another dad in the room quickly chimed in, “And Dean So and So, please take a look around this room. There are twenty potential students here and all of them are white and female. This should allow you to achieve the diversity of which you are very proud.

The only thing Dean So and So could muster was a few platitudes about the fact that women have made great strides and now outnumber their male counterparts in college applications across the country. She skillfully avoided the potential controversy arising from any discussion of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation being privileged in the admissions process. In the end, my daughter was not admitted to this particular university. She was eminently qualified. Maybe that was his dad’s sassy question to Dean So and So. Again, maybe it was something else.

The United States Supreme Court recently announced that it will review, most likely in the new session beginning in October, policies allowing universities to consider student race in the application process as a criteria for program acceptance. . Specifically, SCOTUS will examine the policies of a private institution (Harvard) and a public institution (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) where lower courts have ruled in Students for Fair Admissions vs. Harvard College President and Scholars and Students for Fair Admissions vs. University of North Carolina, that the schools respected previous High Court decisions allowing race to be used as a factor in a wide range of determinants of admissions.

Yet the Grumble against Bollinger 2003 ruling that upheld the use of race to determine school admissions was decided by the slimmest of margins at 5-4, and with the recent announcement of Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement, none of the Justices who have supported this majority opinion and who have traditionally championed liberalism causes will be present in October when the court revisits affirmative action on campus. In fact, with the three additions to the High Court courtesy of President Donald Trump, the tenor of Supremes across the Liberal/Conservative divide will be different going forward, not just for affirmative action cases, but also for burning issues such as abortion. , gun control, etc. Al.

In California, the impact of a possible reversal of previous decisions could arguably have a lesser impact on college acceptance, as the state was the first to ban the use of race as a factor in admission to university under Proposition 209 approved by voters in 1996. Prop. 209 stated that “the state shall not discriminate against or accord preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of the public employment, public education or public procurement.

the effect of Prop. 209 had predictable results. At elite universities and colleges across the state of California, the percentages of black, Latino, and Native American students accepted and enrolled have dropped dramatically, while those of whites and Asians in particular have increased. The same patterns applied to faculty.

An effort to repeal Prop. 209 failed in 2020 with the decisive defeat of Proposal 16. Keep in mind this happened in the same election where progressive Californians gave the Biden/Harris ticket nearly 30% plurality in the popular vote. What this says about the Californian electorate is certainly ripe for discussion.

Of course, not all universities and colleges in California are public institutions, so private universities in California are on high alert as the practice of incorporating race into admissions practices in order to achieve diversity on campus is always allowed. Moreover, if the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the precedent established in Grumble against Bollinger and strictly prohibit any consideration of race in college admissions practices, any future efforts to overturn the California voter-backed ban on such practice at public universities as Proposition 16 would essentially pointless.

Returning to the recent announcement by US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer that he will retire in 2022, President Joe Biden already engaged that he would only consider a black woman as his first appointment at SCOTUS. Whoever it is ultimately, it’s arguable that the president has placed this as-yet-unknown justice in an awkward position, even worthy of recusal, on any matter, including the soon-to-be-heard lawsuits from Harvard and UNC, regarding the action positive that could be considered by the court.