UNC applicants’ information to be part of admissions lawsuit

About 63,000 students who applied to UNC-Chapel Hill in the past two years were notified this week that information from their applications will be handed over to a federal court as part of a lawsuit about the use of race in admissions.

The information will be disclosed under a court order in a suit filed last year against UNC by a group called Students for Fair Admission. The group, which also sued Harvard University, contends that UNC uses race as “a dominant factor” in admissions decisions that are unfair to white and Asian-American applicants.

The court-ordered disclosure pertains to students who applied as entering first-year undergraduates in the fall of 2014 and fall of 2015.

Information to be sent to the court generally will include a student’s high school, standardized test scores, grade point average, class rank and intended major, but not essays and letters of recommendation. However, the university must provide entire application files for a random sample of previous applicants, and those students have been told whether their file is part of the sample.

Personally identifiable information, such as names, addresses, phone numbers, birthdates and Social Security numbers, won’t be disclosed, according to a Nov. 13 letter to a former applicant from Stephen Farmer, UNC’s vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions.

“While the University is legally obligated to produce information in this lawsuit, we remain committed to protecting and respecting your privacy and confidentiality,” Farmer wrote in part.

The court order provides that the information be used only for purposes of the lawsuit. The court also stipulated that the plaintiffs can’t try to learn the identity of applicants, share information about them or try to contact them without the court’s permission.

Letters pointed students and families to a website,, about the lawsuit and court order.

The suit is pending in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, though it has stalled while the U.S. Supreme Court considers Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case that could clarify the use of race in admissions. That decision is likely sometime next year.

The university’s website argues that UNC complies fully with the Supreme Court’s previous ruling that colleges can consider an applicant’s race and ethnicity among a range of factors.

About the pending lawsuit, UNC said: “The University has taken great care to comply with the Supreme Court’s guidance, believes the allegations are without merit, and intends to vigorously defend its admissions practices.”

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill