On October 18th, a federal judge ruled in favor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in an affirmative action case. The Students for Fair Admissions, or SFFA, had sued UNC in a string of lawsuits against universities for their allegedly discriminatory admissions policies.
In 2021, UNC admitted a freshman class of 65 percent white, 21 percent Asian American, 10 percent Hispanic, and 12 percent Black students. The SFFA argued that the university had been “heavy-handedly” considering underrepresented minority applicants, asserting that a mathematical model could predict an admission outcome with 90% accuracy based on the student’s race.
However, the defendant was able to demonstrate the quantitative and qualitative methods they employed to create a diverse and vibrant campus community. While the school admitted to using a race-conscious admissions program, UNC argued that the process advances equal access to education opportunities and enhances student diversity. In fact, race is considered as one of the many ‘plus’ factors whose weight is determined in the context of all the information available in an application. The university prohibits officers from racial quotas or considering race as a defining feature of any application – candidates are not automatically awarded points or given predetermined weights based on outward characteristics.
Given these arguments, Judge Loretta C. Briggs declared UNC defendants not guilty. She stated that the university produced “substantial, credible, and largely uncontested evidence that it has…pursue[d] the educational benefits that flow from student body diversity… and that the benefits the university seeks to achieve are sufficiently measurable to permit judicial scrutiny.”
SFFA will be appealing the decision to the Fourth Court of Appeals and the US Supreme Court. Mr. Blum, the lawyer representing SFFA, had also sued the University of Texas in 2016 but lost the case in a 4-to-3 decision on the grounds that universities should be given “substantial leeway” in admitting their freshman class. The non-profit group is currently waiting on the Harvard appeal, on which UNC’s fate still depends.