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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Supreme Court potentially ending affirmative action poses threats to diversity at UW-Madison, universities across the nation

UW-Madison upholds the consideration of race among many other factors in admissions.

The Supreme Court’s decision in two major cases challenging affirmative action may have serious implications for affirmative action policies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. If affirmative action is overturned, schools across the nation may be prohibited from using race as a consideration in the admissions process, according to the New York Times.

According to the Legal Defense Fund, outlawing race as a consideration in the admissions process would significantly reduce diversity across campuses nationwide. If the Supreme Court decides to outlaw affirmative action, changes will have to be made to the admissions process. Currently, UW-Madison upholds affirmative action.

“UW-Madison strives to admit a class of talented students who are diverse in many ways, including gender, race, geography, interests and intellectual perspective, among others,” said Assistant Vice Chancellor of University Relations John Lucas. “Consideration of race, among many other factors in admissions, has been one important tool in expanding diversity and enhancing the learning environment on many of nation’s campuses, including UW-Madison.'' 

In late October, the Supreme Court heard arguments between Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. University of North Carolina and Harvard. According to the Legal Defense Fund, SFFA founder Edward Blum argued that Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policy violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Blum also challenged UNC’s consideration of race in admissions.

For a majority of their histories, Harvard and UNC have systematically denied and discriminated against students of color, the Legal Defense Fund stated.

“For almost 85% of its nearly 400-year history, Harvard systematically excluded Black, Latinx, Native/Indigenous, Asian American and other students of color,” said the Legal Defense Fund. “UNC only admitted its first Black students in 1951, more than 160 years after its founding, and only did so in response to a federal court order.”

Blum has an extensive history of challenging affirmative action. In 2016, SSFA challenged the University of Texas at Austin for considering race in their admissions. According to the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Supreme Court upheld UT Austin’s race-conscious policy. Since then, Blum made several additional and unsuccessful attempts to outlaw affirmative action policies.

According to the New York Times, with the court’s shift to a conservative majority, this case has potential to favor Blum's anti-civil rights agenda. If the court outlaws affirmative action, universities across the nation will no longer be able to consider race as a factor in admissions. 

“UW-Madison’s approach is consistent and compliant with current law and has resulted in some of the strongest, most competitive and most diverse classes our state, nation and world has to offer,” said Lucas. 

The university will continue to monitor the court case and alter the admissions processes “in accordance with the decision” if necessary, Lucas added.

Affirmative action at UW-Madison is instrumental in upholding the university’s value of diversity. UW-Madison’s mission statement guides the university’s approach to the admissions process. 

“The primary purpose of the University of Wisconsin-Madison is to provide a learning environment in which faculty, staff and students can discover, examine critically, preserve and transmit the knowledge, wisdom and values that will help ensure the survival of this and future generations and improve the quality of life for all,” the university stated in its mission statement. “It also seeks to attract and serve students from diverse social, economic and ethnic backgrounds and to be sensitive and responsive to those groups which have been underserved by higher education.”

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Lucas further expressed that “candidates are evaluated holistically, with both their achievements and their opportunities taken into account.”

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