In a much-anticipated case ruling, a federal appeals court in Boston, Massachusetts ruled Thursday that Harvard could continue to consider race as a part of its admissions process.
Harvard Race Admissions Case
The lawsuit was filed by the anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA). In this particular case, a group of Asian American students is claiming that academically qualified Asian American students are not being admitted into Harvard at the same rate as their white counterparts. It also claims the Ivy League institution gives special consideration to black and Latinx applicants, putting Asian-American applicants at a distinct disadvantage. The SFFA ultimately wants race removed from the college application process creating a “race neutral” admissions process.
The two-person appeals panel rendered a 104-page ruling that deemed Harvard had the constitutional right to consider race as a factor in the admissions process. Affirmative action has been distinctly protected by the Supreme Court in previous decisions when it is used to ensure racial diversity. Specifically, the Court has stated that the use of affirmative action may be used when “attaining student body diversity may be a compelling interest.”
The appeals court ruled that Harvard’s use of race in its current admissions process meets this criterion in its ruling writing, “Enabling students to understand, relate to, and learn from people of different backgrounds is one of the main goals of Harvard’s race-conscious admissions program. Harvard has demonstrated that it values all types of diversity, not just racial diversity. Harvard’s use of race in admissions is contextual and it does not consider race exclusively.”
Harvard contends that race is only one element of well over a hundred considered for admission. The university receives roughly 35,000 applications for about 1,600 spots each year. Every applicant’s test scores, essay, and personal interview are reviewed by the admissions department and ultimately decided on by a larger admissions panel. The Ivy League institution submits that race only informs a small part of the admissions process and is necessary in order for the university to achieve a diverse student body.
Harvard President Lawrence Bacow stated, “the consideration of race, alongside many other factors, helps us achieve our goal of creating a student body that enriches the education of every student.”
The appeals court ruling recognized that while Harvard’s admissions process was by no means “perfect” it is, in fact, constitutional. The ruling also noted that the SFFA did not provide any specific Asian-American applicants that felt Harvard had discriminated against them personally based on their race. The SFFA, while not pleased with this particular ruling feels that their case is headed in the right direction, specifically to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court’s involvement is not a forgone conclusion. Four out of seven justices have to agree to hear a case before the Court can rule on it, and the new make-up of the Supreme Court leaves many questioning if this case will make the cut. However, it does appear if race is to be taken out of the college admissions process, the Supreme Court will be the ultimate deciding factor.