UNC-Chapel Hill Can Continue to Consider Race in Admissions, Judge Rules
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- A federal judge ruled UNC-Chapel Hill's admissions process did not discriminate against white and Asian American applicants.
- The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by Students for Fair Admissions, a group founded by an anti-affirmative action activist.
- The organization also has filed similar lawsuits against Harvard, the University of Texas at Austin, and Yale.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill can continue to use race as a factor in its admissions process, a federal judge ruled Monday.
"UNC has met its burden of demonstrating with clarity that its undergraduate admissions program withstands strict scrutiny and is therefore constitutionally permissible," U.S. District Judge Loretta C. Biggs wrote in her Oct. 18 decision.
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The judge rejected claims by a conservative, nonprofit group that the university's program was unconstitutional and discriminatory. UNC-Chapel Hill has "a compelling and substantial interest in pursuing and attaining" a diverse student population and "offered a reasoned decision for doing so," Biggs ruled.
The judge noted that the admissions program is "narrowly tailored" and that race "is not a defining feature in any of its admissions decisions."
"While no student can or should be admitted to this university, or any other, based solely on race," the judge wrote, "because race is so interwoven in every aspect of the lived experience of minority students, to ignore it, reduce its importance and measure it only by statistical models," as she said the plaintiff had done, "misses important context."
The university acknowledged in its testimony that it considered race as part of a process that also takes into account grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, socioeconomic status, and family background.
Beth Keith, an associate vice chancellor at UNC-Chapel Hill, said in a statement that "this decision makes clear the university’s holistic admissions approach is lawful. We evaluate each student in a deliberate and thoughtful way, appreciating individual strengths, talents and contributions to a vibrant campus community where students from all backgrounds can excel and thrive."
Students for Fair Admissions Inc. filed a lawsuit against the university in 2014, claiming that the university’s admissions process violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The organization specifically alleged that UNC-Chapel Hill "has intentionally discriminated against certain of [its] members on the basis of their race, color, or ethnicity" with its undergraduate admissions process.
The organization will appeal the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary, according to the group’s founder, Edward Blum. The organization also has filed similar lawsuits against Harvard University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Yale University over their admissions programs.
In June 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court put off a decision on whether to review the group's lawsuit against Harvard. In 2016, the court ruled that UT Austin's use of affirmative action was permissible.
The legal standard governing racial considerations in admissions was established in 2003, when the Supreme Court ruled that a University of Michigan Law School admissions program did not violate the Constitution by considering race in admissions procedures.
While approving UNC-Chapel Hill’s admissions process, Biggs said the university still has a long way to go to diversify its student population and create a welcoming environment for students of color and other minority students.
"Admittedly, the efforts that the university has undertaken in recent years related to creating a diverse student body demonstrate a marked contrast to the discriminatory and obstructionist policies that defined the university’s approach to race for the vast majority of its existence," the judge wrote.
"Nevertheless, nearly seventy years after the first black students were admitted to UNC, the minority students at the university still report being confronted with racial epithets, as well as feeling isolated, ostracized, stereotyped and viewed as tokens in a number of university spaces. In addition, the evidence shows that, as a whole, underrepresented minorities are admitted at lower rates than their white and Asian American counterparts, and those with the highest grades and SAT scores are denied twice as often as their white and Asian American peers."
Feature Image: Melissa Sue Gerrits / Stringer / Getty Images News / Getty Images