Will There Be Action On Affirmative Action?


Jack Pennington, Editor-in-Chief

With Thanksgiving past and high school seniors deeply embedded in the college process, the Junior class is probably starting to think about their own application marathon. At the end of October, the Supreme Court heard final arguments on two affirmative action cases that will have a sizable impact on a student community as diverse as Whitney Young’s.

The decision, which may be released before the end of the year by a Supreme Court that has shown little fear of going against precedent, will not just affect Harvard and the University of North Carolina (UNC) but every higher education institution in the county.


On one side is Students for Fair Admissions (SFAA), an entity created specifically to challenge affirmative action policies. On the other side are the Universities themselves, defending their admission processes. In the Harvard case, the SFAA argued before the Court that Asian Americans are being discriminated against in the admission process. In the UNC case, the argument is that their affirmative action admissions policies are discriminating against white students. If the Supreme Court decides against the universities, they will need to overturn their own 2003 decision that “race-conscious admissions policies” were allowed under the constitution.

For a Whitney Young student, the effect of the Supreme Court requiring changes to a university’s admission policy is difficult to predict. An expert witness for the SFAA, Peter Arcidiacono, a Duke University economist, argued that a single change in the admission policy at Harvard would lead to a 16% increase in the number of Asian American admits. Without an increase in class size an equivalent reduction in the number of admittances from other races will take place.  Harvard argued that their selection process complies with the law.

While the effect of the Harvard decision is based on a very specific set of facts, the action against UNC targeted a more typical affirmative action process where disadvantaged students are given priority in certain circumstances. If these policies were overturned by the Supreme Court, it would likely affect a number of universities with similar affirmative action policies across the country, potentially resulting in less opportunities for admissions to disadvantaged Whitney Young students.

No matter what the decision is, this will not be the last we hear of the need for balance as the nation struggles with inequality in higher education and the larger polarized political environment at every level of government, including the judicial branch.