The future of affirmative action hangs in the balance following Monday’s oral arguments at the Supreme Court. As the case was made both for and against Harvard’s race-based admissions process, questions were also raised about fairness in college acceptances for students who come from families that wield wealth and influence.
The Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in two separate cases dealing with the admissions policies of Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), which sued both schools, alleges that the universities’ policies, which consider race as a factor in admissions, discriminate against Asian American applicants.
SFFA first sued Harvard in 2014, and is now asking the Supreme Court to overturn its 2003 landmark decision Grutter v. Bollinger, which permitted race to be considered as one factor in college admissions. In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled in Fisher v. University of Texas that before turning to race-conscious admissions processes, the university must ensure that “race-neutral alternatives do not suffice.”
SFFA made the case that by eliminating advantages for applicants in the ALDC category, which stands for athletes, legacy applicants, applicants on the Dean’s Interest List and children of Harvard staff, Harvard could achieve its goal of diversity without the consideration of race.
People rally in support of affirmative action in college admissions as arguments start on the cases at the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill on Monday, Oct 31, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
“Harvard now refuses to eliminate its legacy preferences or boost its socioeconomic preferences, even though both changes would make Harvard far less White, wealthy, and privileged,” SFFA lawyer Cameron T. Norris stated during Monday’s oral arguments.
In contrast, Seth P. Waxman, a lawyer representing Harvard, argued that changing the approach to ALDC applicants would not have make a considerable difference and if it did, lower courts would have ruled differently. He said that if race were eliminated as an admissions factor, along with any preference given to ALDCs, racial diversity would go down, according to data that evaluated race-neutral admissions alternatives, including ALDCs.
“The representation of African Americans, if you just stopped considering race, would go from 14 to 6 percent, but if you also stopped considering ALDCs, it would go to 5 percent,” he said.
But, a 2019 study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) found that 43 percent of White students accepted into Harvard University were in the ALDC category, and applicants and admits from the ALDC category were “disproportionately White” and came from higher income households, the study found.
“Our model of admissions shows that roughly three quarters of White ALDC admits would have been rejected if they had been treated as white non-ALDCs,” the study states. “Removing preferences for athletes and legacies would significantly alter the racial distribution of admitted students, with the share of white admits falling and all other groups rising or remaining unchanged.”
Equal Education Rights for All rally, in Washington D.C. October 30, 2022. (Fox News Digital)
The athlete admit rate was the highest at 86 percent, compared to an acceptance rate of less than 5.5 percent for non-ALDCs, according to the study. Even though recruited athletes made up less than 1 percent of the applicant pool, they made up over 10 percent of the admitted class.
In addition, the children of faculty and staff and those on the dean’s interest list were admitted at 46.7 percent and 42.7 percent respectively, while legacy applicants were admitted at 33.6 percent.
Parties both for and against affirmative action have argued that if you make the case for removing race as a factor in admissions, you should also be against any favoritism shown to these special interest groups.
The Defense of Freedom Institute (DFI) filed an amicus brief in support of SFFA that called out higher education institutions for favoring ALDC applicants, which DFI believes gives them a tremendous advantage for getting into Harvard, regardless of academic merit, spokesperson Angela Morabito told Fox News Digital.
Attorney Seth Waxman (2nd L) leaves the U.S. Supreme Court after oral arguments on October 31, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
The dean’s interest list is a group of applicants whose parents are not alumni, but the dean takes a “special interest in them because their families are powerful, wealthy, well-connected,” Morabito explained. Instead of focusing on merit, Harvard is putting its emphasis on the applicant’s family’s wealth and status, she said.
“When you really see what is happening inside those admissions offices, it is so clear that diversity is not their goal,” Morabito said. “They’re tilting scales in different ways and when it comes to getting into Harvard, being the child of a faculty member is almost as powerful in an applicant’s favor as having aced to their SAT.”
Morabito described the system as “painfully biased.”
“When Harvard claims that it’s really aiming for diversity, that’s all the side of a little guy in the fight,” she added. “That’s just not true.”
If Harvard really wanted to admit the most qualified candidates, it would eliminate both legacy preferences and race preferences, Kenny Xu, President of Color Us United, which advocates for a colorblind, meritocratic society told Fox News Digital. Instead, he said admissions decisions should be based solely on grades, SAT scores, extracurriculars, teacher recommendations and alumni interviews.
Preferences given to ALDCs “completely eliminates Harvard’s argument that the only way they can achieve racial diversity is by discriminating against Asians,” Xu said.
Kendall Tietz is a Production Assistant with Fox News Digital.