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Harvard, universities across U.S. react to Supreme Court's affirmative action ruling

Civil rights advocate on affirmative action
Supreme Court’s affirmative action ruling prioritizes privilege, civil rights advocate says 04:37

The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that affirmative action in higher education is unconstitutional, arguing that the race-conscious admission policies of Harvard College and the University of North Carolina violate the Constitution.

"Both programs lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful end points," Chief Justice John Roberts said in the majority opinion. "We have never permitted admissions programs to work in that way, and we will not do so today."

In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the majority opinion contradicts "the vision of equality embodied in the Fourteenth Amendment."

"The court cements a superficial rule of colorblindness as a constitutional principle in an endemically segregated society where race has always mattered and continues to matter," Sotomayor said.

In response to the court's decision, Harvard said in a statement that it will comply with the new ruling, but that it will need to navigate how to preserve and uphold its "essential values." 

"We write today to reaffirm the fundamental principle that deep and transformative teaching, learning, and research depend upon a community comprising people of many backgrounds, perspectives, and lived experiences," Harvard's leadership said. "That principle is as true and important today as it was yesterday."

The university acknowledged that the diverse backgrounds of its students and faculty are important factors and should not be ignored.

"To prepare leaders for a complex world, Harvard must admit and educate a student body whose members reflect, and have lived, multiple facets of human experience," the statement read. "No part of what makes us who we are could ever be irrelevant."

In his own statement , Kevin M. Guskiewicz, chancellor for the University of North Carolina, said the school was disappointed by the decision, but that it will follow the court's guidance.

Guskiewicz was among several college administrators who indicated that the court's decision could create uncertainty and confusion regarding admissions procedures moving forward. 

"I know that this decision may raise questions about our future and how we fulfill our mission and live out our values," Guskiewicz said. "But Carolina is built for this, and we have been preparing for any outcome."

The consideration of race in admissions for public universities is already banned in nine states: California, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, Nebraska and Washington — but Thursday's ruling will now also impact private universities in these states. 

Michael V. Drake, president of the University of California system, which oversees nine public schools in the state, said in a statement that the ruling ends a "valuable practice that has helped higher education institutions increase diversity and address historical wrongs over the past several decades."

"The consideration of race was not the conclusive solution to inequities in college admissions, but it was a necessary pathway to addressing systemic deficiencies," Drake wrote. "Without it, we must work much harder to identify and address the root causes of societal inequities that hinder diverse students in pursuing and achieving a higher education."

In her response, Carol Folt, University of Southern California president, wrote that "we will not go backward."

"This decision will not impact our commitment to creating a campus that is welcoming, diverse, and inclusive to talented individuals from every background," Folt said.

Columbia University said that it is still working to understand the full implications of the ruling.

"Diversity is a positive force across every dimension of Columbia, and we can and must find a durable and meaningful path to preserve it," university spokesperson Ben Chang said in a statement.

Ron Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University, called the court's ruling a "significant setback in our efforts to build a university community that represents the rich diversity of America."

"This is particularly distressing given the long history of racial discrimination in our country and the relatively brief period of time during which we have succeeded in recruiting significant numbers of outstanding underrepresented students to Johns Hopkins," Daniels said.

Rice University officials also called the ruling "disappointing." 

"From a campus in the heart of the United States' most diverse city, we will continue our efforts to create a class of students that is multifaceted in race, gender, ideology, ability, geography and special talents," Rice President Reginald DesRoches and Provost Amy Dittmar said in a joint statement. "Such diversity is critical in solving the most perplexing, challenging problems already known, and those we have not yet encountered."

The University of Pennsylvania said it will fully comply with the decision, but will continue to admit students with wide-ranging backgrounds and experiences.

"In full compliance with the Supreme Court's decision, we will seek ways to admit individual students who will contribute to the kind of exceptional community that is essential to Penn's educational mission," the statement from UPenn President Liz Magill and Provost John L. Jackson, Jr. read.

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