A lawsuit filed against UNC-Chapel Hill on Monday seeks to end the university’s use of race in admissions, contending that “race is a dominant factor” in decisions “to the detriment of white and Asian-American applicants.”
The group behind the lawsuit, the Project on Fair Representation, also filed legal action against Harvard University on Monday, claiming that it discriminates against Asian-American students through a quota limit, admitting less-qualified white, Latino and African-American students.
The plaintiff in both lawsuits is a group of rejected applicants, prospective students and parents that has formed a nonprofit called Students for Fair Admissions.
At the heart of the complaint against UNC-CH is the contention that the university has not complied with the U.S. Supreme Court’s guidance in Fisher vs. University of Texas at Austin. In sending that case back to an appeals court last year, the high court said that race can be only considered in admissions under “strict scrutiny” and that universities should first pursue “workable race-neutral alternatives.”
Monday’s lawsuit cited data that UNC-CH had compiled in a supporting brief in the Texas suit years ago, essentially turning UNC-CH’s arguments on itself, in suggesting that the university could achieve racial diversity through race-neutral policies. The suit proposed a number of other, more equitable methods that would yield the same result, such as implementing a 10 percent plan, in which the top graduates of all high schools are admitted. Other approaches include providing better financial aid and boosting recruitment to attract a more diverse pool, the suit said.
“This lawsuit asserts, among other things, that the University of North Carolina is using racial classifications and preferences in its admissions policy to achieve diversity when race-neutral alternatives would work as well or even better,” said Edward Blum, director of the Project on Fair Representation.
UNC-CH officials defended the university’s admissions practices.
“The University stands by its current undergraduate admissions policy and process,” Rick White, associate vice chancellor for communications and public affairs, said in a statement. “Further, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights determined in 2012 that UNC-Chapel Hill’s use of race in the admissions process is consistent with federal law.”
As the university contended in a “friend of the court” brief in the Texas case, White’s statement said, “the University continues to affirm the educational benefits diversity brings to students, as well as the importance of preparing students for a diverse society and assuring a pool of strong state leaders by admitting undergraduates from every background.”
Blum said Students for Fair Admissions has about 70 members. The plaintiff in the UNC-CH suit is an 18-year-old white, male North Carolinian, Blum said. He would not disclose his identity or the identity of the Harvard plaintiff, who is an 18-year-old Asian-American male.
The suit said the plaintiff who applied to UNC-CH for this fall’s class had stellar credentials: a 4.4839 weighted grade-point average, a 1510 reading and math SAT score, an ACT composite score of 32 and five Advanced Placement credits, including four in which he scored a perfect 5 on the test. He was denied, and he enrolled at another university in North Carolina.
The lawsuit also reveals statistics that show disparities in academic credentials among different groups. For example, in the highest range of academic indices for all admitted students in 2006, 98 percent of African-American applicants got in, compared to 47.5 percent of whites and 55.4 percent of Asian-Americans, the suit said.
Among admitted students in 2012, African-American students had an average GPA of 4.32 and SAT of 1229, while Asian-American students had a GPA of 4.63 and SAT of 1431. White students had a GPA of 4.56 and SAT of 1360.
“These statistics confirm that UNC-Chapel Hill continues to use race as far more than a ‘plus’ factor in admissions,” the lawsuit contended, citing a “massive academic achievement gap” among different groups.
Blum predicted that Monday’s lawsuits won’t be the last to attempt to ban the use of race in college admissions in the United States. While the Supreme Court has upheld race in admissions, the new suits seek to test whether universities are narrowly tailoring the use of race.
The Project on Fair Representation had sought potential plaintiffs for months at a website, uncnotfair.org. The website features a photograph of a young man of Asian descent with the question: “Were You Denied Admission to the University of North Carolina? It may be because you’re the wrong race.”
Similar websites were aimed at Harvard and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
In trying to attract plaintiffs, the group’s website said: “UNC-Chapel Hill is a great university and we know it’s tough to be admitted. But UNC continues to use an applicant’s race and ethnicity as an admission criterion even though a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision essentially forbids these practices.”
The Project on Fair Representation is funded by a group supported by conservative donors and foundations, according to media reports.
In the Texas case, an appeals court review of the admissions policies upheld the university’s consideration of race. Blum said the plaintiffs would appeal that ruling to the Supreme Court.
The University of Texas uses a “10 percent plan,” admitting the top graduates in each high school. Because of segregation in public high schools, the university achieves racial and ethnic diversity with the policy. The university also considers race for slots not filled by the percent plan. That was the basis for the recent appeal. Washington correspondent Renee Schoof contributed to this report.