Affirmative Action Challenge

Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. Harvard and UNC

America’s higher education institutions have long recognized and cultivated the educational benefits of diversity. Current holistic admissions practices adhere to a legal framework that has grounded diversity efforts for decades. AACRAO believes these practices are instrumental in helping institutions to identify students who are likely to thrive in their educational programs.

There is a long history of case law that supports the use of holistic assessment’s focus on diversity and confirms that colleges and universities have a compelling interest in ensuring student body diversity. As student demographics undergo rapid change, more colleges and universities are looking beyond traditional measures to admit future students. To remove the consideration of non-academic factors is unfair to applicants for whom this is a critical part of their life and would deprive applicants of full and due consideration of their lived experiences.

Up-to-date Guidance

AACRAO encourages members to begin to examine any admissions or recruitment practices that target populations of a specific race as well as their overall holistic/equity admissions practices.

To assist in this process, AACRAO is providing this guidance document to prepare our members for a possible major change in their ability to consider an applicant’s race and ethnicity as part of a holistic/equity review in admissions. 


Webinar: Looking Back, Planning Ahead

On February 2, 2023, AACRAO hosted a webinar that examines the pending U.S. Supreme cases where the central question is whether colleges and universities can continue to consider an applicant’s race and ethnicity as part of the holistic review process in admissions.

View Recording


UNC Affirmative Action Case Heats Up

Jan 24, 2019, 11:39 AM
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Summary : The other legal battle over race-conscious admissions policies takes center stage as advocacy group accuses Chapel Hill of giving "significant racial preferences" to underrepresented minority applicants.
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In a new federal court filing, Students for Fair Admissions, the advocacy group challenging race-conscious admissions policies, accused the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill of giving "significant racial preferences" to underrepresented minority applicants while ignoring race-neutral alternatives for achieving diversity, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported.

In its motion for summary judgment, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) argued that UNC unfairly uses race "to ensure the admission of the vast majority of underrepresented minorities" in violation of the Equal Protection Clause and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

The advocacy group filed federal lawsuits in 2014 against Harvard University and UNC, accusing both universities of going beyond what the Supreme Court has allowed when considering race in admissions.

Last fall, Harvard officials stood witness in a three-week trial in Boston that examined whether the university limits Asian American applicants to make space for students of other races. Now, the UNC case is heating up with both SFFA and the institution filing briefs in the case, outlining for the first time in detail their takes on the issues at Chapel Hill.

UNC, in its motion for summary judgment, rejected SFFA's claims, stating that the educational benefits of diversity are critical to its educational mission, the Chronicle reported. "The undisputed material facts," its filing says, "demonstrate that the university's admissions approach is constitutionally sound." The university also stated that it had "rigorously assessed" race-neutral strategies, yet concluded that none of them would produce desirable results.

By filing motions for summary judgment, both parties argued that the judge should rule in their favor based on their written filings, instead of holding a trial.

Meanwhile, the closely watched Harvard University case could come to a halt this week, as federal courts only have enough funds to operate until the end of the month, Politico reported. The Judiciary is one of the agencies currently shut down, but has been managing in part on court fee balances. Another hearing in the case is scheduled for next month.

Related Links

The Chronicle of Higher Education


Michelle Mott
Categories :
  • Admissions and Recruitment
  • Advocacy
  • Affirmative Action Challenge
  • Competencies
  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • Enrollment Goals
  • Holistic Admissions
Tags :
  • Affirmative Action
  • Affirmative Action Challenge
  • in the courts
  • Race-Neutral
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