ACE and 36 other higher education groups submitted an amicus brief today opposing the challenge to the “Harvard model” of holistic admissions review and in particular, the use of race as one factor in reviewing applicants to achieve the goal of a talented, diverse incoming class.
A trial in the case Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. Harvard is slated to begin in mid-October in federal district court in Boston. Before then, Judge Allison Burroughs will decide motions for summary judgment submitted by both the plaintiff and Harvard. While unlikely, these pre-trial motions potentially could dispose of all the issues in the case without the necessity of a trial.
In November 2014, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), an organization created by anti-race conscious admissions activist Edward Blum, sued Harvard, alleging that the university discriminates against Asian-Americans and seeking to prevent Harvard and other colleges and universities from using race as part of their holistic review of applicants.
SFFA alleges Harvard’s admissions process holds Asian-American applicants to a higher standard, that Harvard engages in “racial balancing,” and that it overlooks race-neutral alternatives when choosing which students to admit. In response, Harvard emphasizes that it reviews each application with the goal of developing a diverse student body that prepares students to succeed in an environment where interacting with people with different experiences and backgrounds is increasingly essential, a process in line with what the Supreme Court has allowed in previous cases.
Blum also recruited Abigail Fisher to sue the University of Texas at Austin and supported her challenge to its admissions policies, culminating in two trips to the U.S. Supreme Court (Fisher I and Fisher II). When the Supreme Court ruled in Fisher II in 2016, it marked the fourth time in four decades that the high court reaffirmed that the educational benefit of a diverse student body is a compelling government interest that can justify the narrowly tailored consideration of race.
The Higher Education Associations’ Argument
The associations’ amicus brief does not parse the particulars of the Harvard case; rather it speaks to issues of diversity and admissions in higher education overall, along with the institutional benefits that come with crafting a holistic, individualized review of applicants.
The associations write that a diverse student body is essential to educational objectives of colleges and universities, and that each institution should be able to determine within broad limits the diversity that will advance its mission. They also point out that holistic reviews remain a cornerstone for race-conscious admissions precisely because they consider each applicant individually rather than reducing them to their race.
“This lawsuit is nothing more than the first step in a backdoor attempt to achieve the sweeping relief sought—and denied—in Fisher II: the end of the consideration of race in college admissions and the restriction of a university’s ability to assemble a diverse student body,” they wrote. “[We] think it is more than coincidence that this suit was filed against the very university that the Supreme Court has specifically cited approvingly—dating back to Bakke—for its appropriate use of race as a plus-factor in admissions.”
In a letter to the Harvard community in June, outgoing President Drew Faust reaffirmed the university’s commitment to diversity and its efforts to develop a diverse student body.
“As this case generates widespread attention and comment, Harvard will react swiftly and thoughtfully to defend diversity as the source of our strength and our excellence—and to affirm the integrity of our admissions process,” she wrote.