North Carolina officials, politicians, and analysts offered mixed reactions Thursday to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision rejecting the use of race in admissions policies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Harvard.
In an email to UNC students and faculty, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz of defendant UNC-Chapel Hill wrote “our leadership team will need time to thoroughly review the details of this outcome and its potential impact before determining specifically how we will comply with this decision. In the coming weeks, we will communicate our plans with the campus community.”
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the Court’s 6-3 majority opinion in both Students for Fair Admission (SFFA) v. UNC and SFFA v. Harvard, two linked cases concerning the use of race when admitting applicants into universities. In the opinion, Roberts wrote that both UNC and Harvard admissions “lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful end points.”
SFFA v. UNC originates from controversy over the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s admissions process. UNC has long admitted that it uses race as a factor when sifting through student applications, but has maintained that its standards are legal under Grutter v. Bollinger, a 2003 SCOTUS case that allowed affirmative action in admissions.
Decisions in both SFFA v. UNC and SFFA v. Harvard directly overturned the affirmative action standards for admissions set by Grutter 20 years ago, stating they violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Guskiewicz announced that while the university is disappointed with the decision, it will comply.
“Carolina remains firmly committed to bringing together talented students with different perspectives and life experiences and continues to make affordable, high-quality education accessible to the people of North Carolina and beyond. While not the outcome we hoped for, we will carefully review the Supreme Court’s decision and take any steps necessary to comply with the law,” said Guskiewicz.
UNC’s Board of Trustees, partially appointed by the Republican-led General Assembly, said it will “ensure that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill complies fully with today’s ruling” in a statement from Chair David Boliek.
In the lead-up to the decision announced Thursday, some academics have proposed ways colleges can circumvent court rulings that place limits on affirmative action. At an April panel discussion hosted at defendant Harvard University, participants stated that “proxy” factors, such as recruiting students from certain geographical areas or eliminating standardized testing, could target a diverse field of potential students.
Gov. Roy Cooper heavily criticized the SCOTUS decision, stating it would “undermine decades of progress made across the country to reduce systemic discrimination and promote diversity on campuses.”
“Campus leaders will now have to work even harder to ensure that North Carolinians of all backgrounds are represented in higher education,” Cooper added.
N.C. Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner Josh Stein took to Twitter to offer more tempered criticism of the rulings, alluding that the decisions will negatively affect diversity on campuses.
Students learn best when they are exposed to a wide variety of perspectives and backgrounds. I believe that our schools and businesses should reflect the full strength and richness of our state’s diversity. That’s when North Carolina is at its greatest. https://t.co/B2WKgXtlra— Josh Stein (@JoshStein_) June 29, 2023
On the Republican side, former congressman and gubernatorial candidate Mark Walker praised the decision on Twitter.
All North Carolinians are created equal. Today, the US Supreme Court upheld this obvious principle that Josh Stein sought to undermine. As your Governor, I will fight for equality for all and ensure that our universities comply. #ncgov #ncpol #affirmativeaction #SupremeCourt pic.twitter.com/7C178bz2xO— Mark Walker (@RepMarkWalker) June 29, 2023
Other GOP gubernatorial candidates, Lieutenant Governor Mark Robisnosn and Treasurer Dale Folwell, have not released statements on the case so far.
Dr. Andy Jackson, director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity at the John Locke Foundation, told Carolina Journal that “the ruling is a victory for fairness in college admissions.”
“The court did not overturn precedent with today’s ruling,” said Jackson. “The court put a 25-year time limit on race-conscious admissions in its Gutter v Bollinger ruling in 2003. Today’s ruling did no more than move up that deadline by five years. UNC can still use any number of factors in admissions, including how applicants’ race impacted their lives. They just cannot use the color of their skin as a factor.”
North Carolina’s senior U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis celebrated the decision on Twitter, saying “the Supreme Court made the right decision today. Colleges should not be able to discriminate against applicants based on the color of their skin.”