AAUP Stands for Equity after Court Ruling on Admissions

By Kelly Hand

After the US Supreme Court delivered a significant blow to long-standing efforts of colleges and universities to ensure equal access to higher education for students of all races, the AAUP continues to work with faculty members, college and university administrations, and social justice organizations to make the crucial goal of ensuring access to higher education a reality. A 6–3 decision by the court’s Republican-appointed majority held that race-conscious admissions policies used by Harvard University and the University of North Carolina violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The ruling overturned what had been settled law since the court’s landmark 1978 decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, which was challenged but reaffirmed twenty-five years later in Grutter v. Bollinger and reaffirmed twice more, in 2013 and 2016, in Fisher v. University of Texas.

In an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court in support of Harvard and UNC, the AAUP and other groups had outlined how race-conscious admissions policies can further the educational objectives of colleges and universities and discussed the importance of racially diverse student bodies. Although the court’s decision is a disappointing setback, the AAUP will continue its fight for a more just and equitable society in which all students have a full and fair opportunity to receive a high-quality education and to contribute to the academic life of US colleges and universities. The Association is developing updated guidance on ensuring equitable access to higher education and has assembled resources to help chapters and others at https://www.aaup.org/issues/diversity-higher-education.

Concerns about the impact of the Supreme Court decision on Black and Latino students have drawn attention to legacy-based affirmative action—the practice of considering an applicant’s family ties to the institution as a positive factor in admissions—because it primarily benefits students who are affluent and white. The AAUP issued a statement in July applauding colleges and universities that are ending legacy admission preferences and calling upon institutions to review and revise such preferential admission policies. The statement also urged AAUP members and chapters to encourage their institutions to sign the NAACP’s “Diversity No Matter What” pledge, available at https://naacp.org/actions/diversity-no-matter-what.