University of North Carolina can consider race in admissions, federal judge rules

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In this March 18, 2020 file photo, people remove belongings on campus at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C. A federal judge has ruled that North Carolina’s flagship public university may continue to consider race as a factor in its undergraduate admissions. The ruling goes against plaintiffs who argued that race-based admissions put white and Asian students at a disadvantage. U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs ruled late Monday, Oct. 18, 2021 that the University of North Carolina has shown that it has a compelling reason to pursue a diverse student body and has demonstrated that measurable benefits come from that goal.
In this March 18, 2020 file photo, people remove belongings on campus at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C. A federal judge has ruled that North Carolina’s flagship public university may continue to consider race as a factor in its undergraduate admissions. The ruling goes against plaintiffs who argued that race-based admissions put white and Asian students at a disadvantage. U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs ruled late Monday, Oct. 18, 2021 that the University of North Carolina has shown that it has a compelling reason to pursue a diverse student body and has demonstrated that measurable benefits come from that goal.

The University of North Carolina's use of race in its admissions process is constitutional and the school has shown race is "only a 'plus factor' among many factors" in its decisions to admit students, a federal judge ruled Monday.

The decision from a U.S. district judge in North Carolina found the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's admissions program "withstands strict scrutiny" and its race-conscious admissions policy helps further its pursuit of the "educational benefits that flow from student body diversity."

The university has also considered race-neutral alternatives in its admissions process and showed there are "no adequate, workable or sufficient" alternatives, Judge Loretta C. Biggs wrote in her decision.

Beth Keith, UNC associate vice chancellor, praised the decision and said it makes clear the university's "holistic admissions approach is lawful."

"We evaluate each student in a deliberate and thoughtful way, appreciating individual strengths, talents and contributions to a vibrant campus community where students from all backgrounds can excel and thrive," Keith said in a statement.

Students for Fair Admissions, a conservative nonprofit that seeks to eliminate race and ethnicity from colleges' admissions processes, filed its lawsuit in 2014. A two-week trial was held last fall in federal court.

The group claimed the university's use of race in admissions was not just a "plus factor" and that race-neutral alternatives could achieve a diverse student body. The group said the admissions practices discriminated against white and Asian students.

More on race in college admissions: Federal appeals court upholds Harvard University's use of affirmative action policies

Edward Blum, the group's president, said he was disappointed by the decision and planned to appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court.

"We believe that the documents, emails, data analysis and depositions (Students for Fair Admissions) presented at trial compellingly revealed UNC’s systematic discrimination against non-minority applicants," Blum said in a statement.

Biggs disagreed.

"There is no evidence that race was used by the University as a predominant factor in evaluating a candidate’s admission, nor that it was a defining feature of any individual application. While there may be some evidence that race may tip the scale for some small percentage of applicant decisions in a given year, such conclusion does not transform UNC’s admittedly holistic process into a constitutionally impermissible one," Biggs wrote.

Biggs' decision was based on a review of statistical evidence presented by both sides, UNC's admissions process, the university's diversity plan and the race-neutral alternatives it has considered, among other factors.

In the ruling, Biggs also noted past Supreme Court decisions had affirmed the legality of race-conscious admissions processes and that diversity as an educational benefit at a university was a compelling interest to use such processes. The university's admissions processes did not violate those precedents, according to the ruling.

Even though UNC's practices are not discriminatory, the university must still consider alternatives that do not consider race, which it has and continues to do, Biggs wrote.

UNC is still "far from creating the diverse environment described in its mission statement and other foundational documents submitted into evidence in this case," Biggs said.

Nearly two-thirds of students entering University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this year were white or Caucasian, according to school statistics listed on its website. More than 20% were Asian or Asian American, while 12% identified as Black or African American and 10% identified as Hispanic or Latino or Latina.

Biggs in her decision wrote "underrepresented minorities are admitted at lower rates than their white and Asian American counterparts." Some students still face racial epithets and feel isolated, stereotyped and "viewed as tokens in a number of university spaces," Biggs wrote.

While the university's practices adhere to the standards set out in past rulings, "UNC continues to have much work to do," Biggs wrote.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: UNC-Chapel Hill can consider race in admissions process, judge rules

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