The Supreme Court is expected to hand down its decision on a pair of cases involving race-based admissions this month, but some college and university presidents are not waiting to signal how they plan to respond. Their messages share a common theme: Should the court rule against race-based admissions, they will obey the law but find every possible legal way to circumvent it.
For example, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) President Sally Kornbluth released a statement last week in which she said that “MIT will follow the law” but insisted on her “commitment to building on MIT’s decades-long efforts to welcome a student body that is both unparalleled in its academic excellence and vibrantly diverse.”
She also linked to a blog post authored by Dean of Admissions and Student Financial Services Stu Schmill in which he said, “The prospect of more constraint fills all of us here at MIT Admissions with both more concern, and more resolve, for the important work that remains to be done.”
Carleton College President Alison Byerly similarly wrote that the decision could “have a significant impact on admissions practices at many colleges and universities, including Carleton. I write today to assure you that, while we will comply with whatever the Court decides, we stand firm in our commitment to increasing the diversity of our student body in every dimension.”
A month ago, Northwestern University President Michael Schill said, “Let me be unequivocal: Northwestern’s commitment to student diversity will remain no matter what the Supreme Court decides.” He added that the university will work “within the law,” but “Provost Kathleen Hagerty has convened a working group of University leaders that has taken inventory of Northwestern’s current practices and examined how we might adapt them to potential changes in the legal landscape.”
So what will admissions offices do? These statements note that practical details cannot be released until the Supreme Court makes its ruling. But Northwestern University Vice President & Associate Provost of Diversity and Inclusion Robin R. Means Coleman offered some insight into what administrators are thinking, saying that the institution is considering using proxies:
Proxies are not the best solution to a difficult legal landscape. However, across our nation conversations are being had about potential courses of action. Options may include: intentional geographic recruitment (e.g., ZIP codes), using socioeconomic status as part of a more holistic admissions review, continuing the trend of test-optional/ending mandatory testing for admissions, and robustly investing in initiatives, curricula, and hiring that signal we value diversity and that evidences an infrastructure of inclusion and support.
Of course, it is unlikely that these proxies will signal commitment to the most important diversity, which is the intellectual diversity that would counteract the identity politics that these elite schools seem so intent on reinforcing.
As higher education administrators search for ways to get around the law, it is worth noting that Americans are generally against affirmative action in college admissions. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 50% of respondents disapprove of race-based admissions, while only 33% approve.
But college and university administrators have a different view, and their statements indicate that they are not going to take the opinions of the Supreme Court or the American people to heart. Instead, they are giving every indication they will continue to do whatever they can to admit students on grounds other than their academic merit.