SCOTUS Ends Affirmative Action for Colleges: A Statement
For over 30 years, we at Ivy Coach have championed Affirmative Action, believing it a necessary practice in highly selective college admissions to create an America rooted in equal opportunity under the law.
Because the America of 2023 is not rooted in equal opportunity. It is not an America that has fully reckoned with the gravity of our country’s original sin. There remain “present effects of past discrimination.” The civil unrest in this nation of 2020 — the events surrounding the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many other countless Black Americans throughout our history whose names we know and whose names we do not know — underscored how far America has to come to live up to the promise of equal opportunity.
Affirmative Action Was Always Flawed and Long in Peril
Affirmative Action was never a perfect practice to bring about equal opportunity for Americans of all races. Yet it alone was not the scapegoat for unjust Asian American discrimination in elite college admissions as many have made it out to be — at least any more so than legacy admission or the admission of recruited athletes. As we have suggested from atop our soapbox in elite college admissions for nearly two generations, Affirmative Action was always flawed. And so we understand in our heart of hearts why so many Americans wanted to see the practice outlawed.
Yet for as long as we at Ivy Coach have been championing the importance of Affirmative Action in this country, despite its acknowledged flaws, we have issued a clarion call — often against the majority opinion in America, and sometimes, it feels as though we were a voice crying out in the wilderness — to preserve the in peril practice. Even when Harvard won earlier rounds of the Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College case (or decades-earlier cases surrounding Affirmative Action), we warned with our megaphone that the increasingly conservative-leaning Supreme Court would likely overturn the decision.
Yet, today, we no longer have to speculate on how the Supreme Court would rule. Today, on June 29, 2023, Affirmative Action, as we know it, was outlawed by the highest court in our land. Today, the Supreme Court — in one fell swoop and to the surprise of few — curtailed America’s universities from considering an applicant’s race in the college admissions process.
A practice that for decades helped underrepresented minorities — among them, Black, Latino, and Native American young people — reach the pinnacles of America’s meritocracy was pronounced dead by a 6-3 decision of the United States Supreme Court. Not even the reasonable Chief Justice John Roberts, a man whose life legacy is to preserve judicial independence, saw fit to maintain the practice.
So what does today’s landmark decision — one that will make the AP U.S. History books alongside Roe v. Wade, Dred Scott v. Sandford, Miranda v. Arizona, Marbury v. Madison, and Dartmouth College v. Woodward, among others — mean for the highly selective college admissions process? What does it mean for underrepresented minority students — Black, Latino, and Native Americans? What does it mean for those considered overrepresented minority students — Asian Americans? What does it mean for white applicants? Are there legal loopholes? Let’s dive in!
The End of Affirmative Action’s Impact on Various Groups
We at Ivy Coach believe that the mantra “The more things change, the more they stay the same” applies to today’s Supreme Court ruling. While America’s colleges will have to make critical changes to their admissions practices over this next year and thereafter, the impact of the landmark ruling across the college admissions landscape, we suspect, will likely dismay the litigants and lead to only further litigation.
Impact on Elite Colleges
Guided as always by Ivy Coach’s famously accurate crystal ball, a crystal ball cited even on the pages of America’s oldest college newspaper, we suspect today’s Supreme Court ruling against Affirmative Action will lead to the following changes at America’s elite colleges:
- Workarounds for discerning race beyond straightforward race checkboxes. The Supreme Court may have outlawed direct preferential treatment in admissions based on race, but not indirect preferential treatment in admissions based on race. As we anticipate that The Common Application will imminently eliminate the optional race question in which students are prompted to indicate their ethnicity, elite colleges will rely more heavily on students’ essays, letters of recommendation, and other factors to discern their race. It will shift the consideration of race in admissions from characteristics to experiences so these schools can achieve their same goals. After all, these schools do not wish to see a drop in diversity on their campuses. These schools will continue to meet their institutional needs as best they can. Even Chief Justice Roberts explicitly and elegantly stated that applicants have every right to write about their race and upbringing in their applications, and colleges have every right to consider this information: “At the same time, as all parties agree, nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.”
- Private universities will be sneakier than public universities. Schools, like the Ivy League institutions, will take advantage of the aforementioned legal loopholes more so than the top public institutions, like the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia. In short, there’s less record-keeping at the private schools.
- Fewer URMs on elite college campuses. While we believe America’s elite colleges will find easy workarounds to discerning a student’s race (when it’s not already evident by the student’s and parent’s names and parent’s backgrounds), admissions officers will have to be on their best behavior — particularly over these next few years — with so many critical eyeballs on their decision-making. The days when Harvard admissions officers penned handwritten notes about a student’s race on admissions files seem like distant memories.
- Increased Asian American representation on elite college campuses. While admissions officers will continue to discriminate against Asian American applicants — which they often do subliminally, as we’ve long decried — Asian American representation will rise in the coming years as admissions officers are on their best behavior.
- The end of legacy admission. Just as we at Ivy Coach have long called for elite colleges to end discrimination against Asian American applicants, we have long decried the practice of offering preferential treatment to the progeny of a school’s alumni base. We’ve even gone so far as to deem it unlawful — a violation of 26 U.S. Code § 170 of our tax code. Parents should not receive preferential treatment for their children in admissions in exchange for tax-deductible donations. Yet with Affirmative Action no more, America’s elite colleges will no longer be able to justify continuing this anachronistic practice more befitting an aristocracy than our American meritocracy. Legacy admission, Ivy Coach’s crystal ball hereby predicts, will be the first domino to fall in the wake of today’s Supreme Court ruling, following the trailblazing of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University, and Amherst College, among a few others. It’s lemonade from lemons! And we project the next domino to fall will be Harvard because where Harvard goes, the rest tend to follow. If only offering preferential treatment in admissions to squash players, water polo players, field hockey players, and other sports that essentially earmark slots in admissions for white students would be eliminated as well!
- A slight increase in white representation. Because we anticipate legacy admission falling in the weeks to come and because it’s a practice that overwhelmingly favors white applicants, we expect some of the gains of the outlawing of Affirmative Action for white applicants to be offset by the elimination of legacy admission.
Impact on Black, Latino, and Native American Applicants
We expect Black, Latino, and Native American representation to decline but not to nosedive. And there is precedent for our forecast: California’s Proposition 209 prohibited the University of California system from considering race — among other factors — in its admissions practices. Yet there is slightly greater Black representation today on UC campuses than in the early 1990s, before the Prop 209 ruling.
Impact on Asian American Applicants
We expect Asian American representation, which we wish to point out includes South Asian applicants, to increase at America’s elite colleges but not by leaps and bounds.
Admissions officers are human. A court ruling will not eliminate their implicit biases, which have for many years worked against Asian American applicants.
Impact on White Applicants
Just as we expect Asian American representation at America’s elite colleges to increase, we anticipate white representation on these campuses to grow as well — but not to the same extent. Why? Because we expect that legacy admission — a practice that overwhelmingly favors white applicants — will be eliminated at America’s elite colleges, one after the other, over the coming weeks (notice we didn’t say months!).
A Great Hypocrisy of the Supreme Court’s Ruling on Affirmative Action
While there are many hypocrisies of the Supreme Court’s ruling against Affirmative Action, we wish to highlight one: Affirmative Action can stand at our nation’s elite, highly selective military academies, like West Point and Annapolis, but not at other universities.
So most of the justices believe it’s ok to consider race in the admissions process to our nation’s top military academies, but they draw the line at Harvard. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s powerful dissent on this matter speaks volumes:
“The court has come to reset on the bottom-line conclusion that racial diversity in higher education is only worth potentially preserving insofar as it might be needed to prepare Black Americans and other underrepresented minorities for success in the bunker, not the boardroom (a particularly awkward place to land, in light of the history the majority opts to ignore). It would be deeply unfortunate if the Equal Protection Clause actually demanded this perverse, ahistorical, and counterproductive outcome. To impose this result in that Clause’s name when it requires no such thing, and to thereby obstruct our collective progress toward the full realization of the Clause’s promise, is truly a tragedy for us all.”
A Final Word from Harvard’s President-Elect
Harvard’s President-Elect, Claudine Gay, issued the following statement on the Supreme Court’s decision. We wish to leave our readers with her words, words that we believe speak volumes for the future of elite college admissions as much for what is said as for what is said between the lines. We believe these words will echo through college admissions offices across America over these next years.
“The Supreme Court’s decision on college and university admissions will change how we pursue the educational benefits of diversity. But our commitment to that work remains steadfast. It is essential to who we are and the mission that we are here to advance. For nearly nine years, Harvard vigorously defended our admissions process and our belief that we all benefit from learning, living, and working alongside people of different backgrounds and experiences. We will comply with the Court’s decision, but it does not change our values. We continue to believe deeply that a thriving, diverse intellectual community is essential to academic excellence and critical to shaping the next generation of leaders.”
You are permitted to use www.ivycoach.com (including the content of the Blog) for your personal, non-commercial use only. You must not copy, download, print, or otherwise distribute the content on our site without the prior written consent of Ivy Coach, Inc.