Court allows UNC to keep using race as admissions factor

A U.S. district court judge has ruled that UNC may continue to consider race in admissions.

Students for Fair Admissions plans to appeal the ruling.

The University of North Carolina will continue to be permitted to use race as a factor in college admissions, following a court ruling denying a challenge to the admissions process that alleged the consideration of race is discriminatory. 

Judge Loretta C. Biggs of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina issued the ruling on Oct. 18 Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) had brought the lawsuit in 2014 and had argued that UNC was discriminating against white applicants in the way it looked at race during the admissions process. 

The university’s 2005 diversity plan aimed for “critical masses of underrepresented populations,” and SFFA contended that the university never defined what a “critical mass” would be or assessed if it had achieved “critical mass.” However, the Court found that “critical mass” referred to the educational benefits of a diverse student body, not a quota for how many students of particular races should be admitted.

[RELATED: 5 Big Questions for Kenny Xu]

SFFA had claimed that statements made by application readers demonstrated a racially biased admissions process. SFFA described these statements, saying, that one “express[es] disappointment that an applicant with perfect test scores was Asian and not ‘Brown,’” and another said that an application reader was conducting more research on an applicant “and going through this trouble because [a candidate] is a biracial (black/white) male.”

According to the ruling, using race as an admissions factor is permissible only in specific circumstances: “A university must have considered race neutral alternatives that are workable and available and conclude that they do not promote the institution’s goals as well as race conscious strategies and at tolerable expense,” Judge Biggs wrote. 

SFFA contended that UNC should be using race-neutral admissions criteria. However, the court found that UNC “has engaged in ongoing, serious, good faith considerations of workable race neutral alternatives in an effort to find options to its race conscious process in admissions.”

The Court ruled “that UNC has met its burden in demonstrating that it has a genuine and compelling interest in achieving the educational benefits of diversity” and that the university had a clear target for the educational goals it hoped to achieve through its admissions practices.  

[RELATED: SCOTUS delays action on Harvard affirmative action case]

Despite the court ruling, this case may be far from over. Edward Blum, the president of SFFA, said in a press release, “SFFA will appeal this decision to the Fourth Court of Appeals and to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Blum added, “Students for Fair Admissions is disappointed that the court has upheld UNC’s discriminatory admissions policies. We believe that the documents, emails, data analysis and depositions SFFA presented at trial compellingly revealed UNC’s systematic discrimination against non-minority applicants.”

Beth Keith, Associate Vice Chancellor of UNC’s Office of University Communications, told Campus Reform, “This decision makes clear the University’s holistic admissions approach is lawful.” She touted the admissions method, saying, “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.”

As Campus Reform has reported, Students for Fair Admissions has also sued Harvard University over allegedly discriminating against white and Asian men in its recruiting and admissions processes. The Supreme Court has yet to decide whether it will take up the case. 

 Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AngelaLMorabito