Supreme Court Admissions Case

Supreme Court Affirmative Action, Affirmative Action Case, Case on Affirmative Action

The decision of the Supreme Court this week in the Affirmative Action case will not have a major impact on highly selective college admissions. But it will have some impact.

We thought we’d dissect the Supreme Court admissions case a bit more for our readers since it was a very important decision reached this week that has an impact on the world of highly selective college admissions. Affirmative Action — the consideration of race as a factor in college admission — is a policy that still stands after the ruling. But our nation’s highest court essentially issued a warning in its ruling that should give colleges some pause as they consider race in admissions decisions. Colleges must be able to show should they be challenged in court that they have indeed considered “race-neutral alternatives” and that the system of affirmative action is specifically designed to achieve the educational benefits that go hand in hand with increased diversity of the student body.

So are highly selective colleges going to stop using Affirmative Action policies now because they’re scared they won’t be able to demonstrate that they have considered “race-neutral alternatives” as first dictated in the seminal 2003 case upholding the use of Affirmative Action? No. We expect very few changes in actual practice at highly selective college admissions offices based upon this 7-1 Supreme Court decision, but we do anticipate schools being extra cautious on making sure they document ways in which they considered “race neutral alternatives.” We happen to think highly selective colleges heard the stern warning from this case and will enact some small changes to avoid getting named as the defendant in a future legal battle.

What do you think about the ruling? Do you think the decision will have a bigger impact than we at Ivy Coach do? If so, share your thoughts in the Comments section below as we’re always curious to hear them.


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1 Comment

  • Rosemary Laberee says:

    I think the real question is this: “Who is represented in the increased diversity that results from Affirmative Action policies?” I do not know the answer to this question, and I have a mere layman’s knowledge of the Affirmative Action law. But my general sense is that we (America) are seeking to correct the wrongs of the past and even the playing field. This is a very worthy goal. Then, it would follow that the descendants of slaves would receive the highest priority. Is this what actually happens? I wonder how often the individual of African descent fills the slot of the individual of African-American descent?

    I think the ethnicity box is going to be obsolete in the not too distant future. I blogged on this very topic not that long ago. Please feel free to not include this info if it is just too log. I cut and pasted it below.

    I love your newsletter, by the way. Thank you, thank you !


    Diversity practices in the college application process are a very touchy topic. The reasons are obvious – we mourn for errors past, we bid all strife and discourse cease, we strive for equality in opportunity and hope never again to witness the terrible sadness of a scalded soul. Amen, amen and amen.

    But, diversity practices are getting complicated – hard to manage and harder yet to explain.

    Russell Nieli, a Princeton professor and admissions adviser to Princeton freshman, uses an interesting phrase when analyzing the practice. He calls the diversity targets -identity groups.

    An identity group is an ethnic identity which is viewed, generally, as challenged, discriminated against, or somehow not given a fair chance in life. Most would agree that the “identity group” practices in colleges aim to get at this thing: They want to help kids who have been oppressed, kids who still suffer from the sins of our country’s past, or kids who have no access to good teachers or good classes. They want to give these kids a leg up, a second chance, the benefit of the doubt, etc…. Very few would argue against this most worthy goal. But there is a problem here. Color, race, ethnicity and exotic roots are poor barometers of the social conditions in which a student strives to succeed.

    Remember – the positive promotion of “identity groups” in universities all over the country is not hidden. It is not the topic of furtive whispers. It is out in the open. It is the subject of scholarly essays and it is widely acknowledged. But, it is increasingly being challenged in the courts. And, now, science also seeks to turn it on its head.

    The era of the ethnicity box may be coming to an end.

    Today, it is possible for any person on earth willing to part with $200 to have their ethnic roots known with certainty. I’m not talking about; I’m describing DNA analysis through the National Genographic Project. The results are guaranteed to shock. My family just did this. We are about as boringly white as white gets (or so we thought), with grandparents all hailing from Ireland, Scotland or England. Our DNA tells a different story. We are only 29% northern European. We are 41% middle-Eastern and 30% western Asian (area now known as Turkmenistan and Iran). WHO KNEW? Now, these results go back thousands of years. And, when any one of us goes back this far, we ARE going to find Asian, Mediterranean and/or African roots. All of us. Interesting, huh?

    The ethnicity box says nothing at all about the prospective student’s life experience or social condition, which is the real information it seeks to get at. Since there is just no way to quantify the cultural experience, we settle for a mostly irrelevant reporting of a) the color of your skin, or b) the most exotic soil on which a parent or grandparent was born. That seems rather shallow.

    Here are some scenarios in which the ethnicity box fails miserably. By the way, I do not know the answers to any of these questions…..

    A child from an impoverished area of South America, but adopted as a baby by an affluent white couple, and raised happily in a Bryn Mawr mansion – what box should he check? Should this college applicant seek advantage? All of the adopted Chinese children who were raised in the average white American household – what box should they check? What if the adopted Chinese baby is raised in an African American household – what box does she check? Is it fair for a Puerto Rican student with a neurosurgeon dad and a lawyer mom to gain the advantage of an “identity group” applicant? How about a rich white kid who steps over his father’s drunken body on the bathroom floor every night so he can brush his teeth? Is there a box for him to check? Most would agree that it really is the cultural conditions, rather than ethnic roots, which can truly augment or impair a kid’s chance for success in life and that “challenged life” should trump “ethnic roots”. But, see how messy this is?

    Add to this the fact that DNA analysis is going to be as commonplace as an app for your iPhone and soon, very soon, we are going to be faced with the fact that we ALL have exotic roots. What, then?

    In this era, making generalizations about someone’s lifestyle and social condition based on their ethnicity is downright offensive. In every day life, we know better than to do something this coarse. We work hard to NOT generalize. Yet, when it comes to college applications, we lose our sensibilities. Now, we want people to make generalizations based on our race. And, regardless of which box you check …even if you check “I prefer not to disclose”, assumptions and generalizations have instantly been assigned to you. That’s kind of weird.

    Another problem with correcting admissions for diversity is the collateral damage to merit. There are other identity groups who face discrimination of a different type. If you are Chinese, East Asian, Jewish, or Korean and you have perfect SAT scores, perfect GPA, high achievement in the arts, sciences or music, you are faced with a disproportionate chance of rejection. Your hard work, your sacrifices, your determination and your tenacity are punished. What is to be said about this? What words sound right to explain this Kafkaesque condition? Doesn’t it seem un-American to bypass excellence, much less punish it ?

    On the topic of punishing excellence, I have this interesting anecdote:
    My daughter recently applied for a scholarship. Initially denied the scholarship because it did not ‘appear’ that she needed it, the committee looked over her achievements and, to their credit, they asked her to appeal it with an essay about why she deserved it. She did. It made her so happy to be able to put into words her deep frustration with “the system”. I do not think she will mind me quoting her a little bit …..

    “What does my father’s tax return have to do with me? I’ve worked like a dog all through high school. Whether he made very little or quite a lot, it has nothing to do with me. I chose to seek excellence. My sweat, my sacrifices, my hours of studying, my choosing to do what is hard over what is easy again and again, should stand on its own. Does anyone ask an Olympic athlete how much money their dad makes? Focus on parent income defiles the effort of the student and kills the incentive to excel. Either I am the best student for this scholarship or I am not. That is all.”

    She got this scholarship.

    I think there are many college applicants who want to scream out similar words, who want to have their efforts evaluated independent of ethnic heritage or economic status, and who decry the death of meritocracy.

    My daughter’s experience underscores the deeply challenging question that American universities and American families must ask themselves. What exactly are we trying to achieve? Is it even possible to tease out the information we seek, in order to even the playing field and thus sleep better at night?

    Finally, faced with the ethnicity box’s inevitable fall from grace, I do wonder what will happen next.

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