AAC&U Statement on the US Supreme Court’s Decision on Race-Conscious Admissions
Today’s decision by the US Supreme Court to prohibit the use of race as a factor in college admissions constitutes a major setback for higher education and for our democracy. It greatly complicates the efforts of colleges and universities to design holistic admissions policies that advance their distinctive missions and to create educational environments and experiences that produce the learning outcomes they seek for their students.
In nine states, race-based affirmative action had already been prohibited in public institutions of higher education. If, as Justice Louis Brandeis famously observed, the states are laboratories of democracy, then the results of those experiments are already in: prohibiting consideration of race in college admissions results in sharp declines in the enrollment of students from historically underrepresented groups. It is reasonable to expect that today’s decision will nationalize those unconscionable trends, raising even higher the barriers to educational opportunity and socioeconomic mobility for the historically marginalized.
The decision is also a major setback for educational excellence. Preparation for work, citizenship, and life in an increasingly diverse society that is inextricably connected to a larger global community requires a diversity of backgrounds, identities, and outlooks among students. Notwithstanding the well-developed research base demonstrating the educational benefits of such diversity, today’s decision overturns four decades of precedent recognizing a corresponding state interest in student body diversity. In restricting the ability of colleges and universities to create diverse student bodies, the Court today has made it more difficult to ensure all students will have access to this essential component of educational excellence.
Today’s decision must also be considered in the broader context shaped by a recent increase in government actions undermining academic freedom and institutional autonomy. Foundational to American higher education, these closely interrelated principles both enable and preserve the freedom of inquiry and expression necessary to pursue truth wherever it may lead, to increase the store of knowledge, and to drive innovation and discovery.
After the Supreme Court rescinded the constitutional right to abortion in June 2022, several states moved quickly to ban or severely limit access to abortion. Colleges and universities in those states are now subject to government restrictions affecting not only campus health services but also the education and training of doctors and other medical professionals. Meanwhile, since January 2021, about one-third of states across the country have passed so-called “divisive concept” laws that impose restrictions on the content of school and college curricula, excluding from instruction and discussion an array of topics related to race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and US history and culture. To these abridgments of the academic freedom to determine what is taught, the Court has now added an abridgment of the academic freedom of colleges and universities to decide whom to enroll.
In the face of ongoing efforts to avert a national reckoning with racism by raising the false flag of critical race theory, to prevent the stories and perspectives of the historically marginalized from informing our understanding of history, and now to foreclose on the educational aspirations of students of color, AAC&U reaffirms its commitment to antiracism and racial equity. We will continue to work with and on behalf of our members to promote truth-telling and racial healing on our campuses and in our communities and to acknowledge and confront racialized practices that marginalize students of color. Further, AAC&U reaffirms its commitment to the bedrock principles of academic freedom and institutional autonomy. We will work with and on behalf of our members to ensure that today’s Supreme Court decision does not arrest or reverse progress to expand educational opportunity and access to liberal education.