Along with approximately 35 other higher education groups, we will be submitting an amicus brief Monday supporting 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.
Background: In November 2014, Students for Fair Admissions, 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.
You may remember Blum as the person who 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.
Our amicus brief: Our submission 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 the freedom to craft a holistic, individualized review of applicants. This is an argument we, along with many of you, have made time and time again.
It is our strong belief that Blum is using this lawsuit to again try to achieve the sweeping relief sought—and denied—in Texas: the end of the consideration of race in college admissions and the restriction of a university’s ability to assemble a diverse student body. Here, he attacks the “Harvard model” that Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. specifically cited in the 1978 landmark case Regents of the University of California v. Bakke as an exemplar of race-conscious admissions.
No doubt, the retirement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is seen as an opportunity to torpedo the basic framework for holistic review of applications for admission and upend an approach that has been widely adopted throughout higher education. This case could easily go on for years. We will be attentive throughout this case to ensure the safeguards to these admissions policies provided by the Supreme Court remain in place.