On June 29, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the use of race as a “plus” factor in higher education admissions, a practice sometimes called affirmative action, ending an era of inclusive admissions as we know it.

In a sign of the complexity and politically charged nature of the issue, the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., was accompanied by three concurring opinions and two dissenting ones. Highlights of the opinions and dissents can be found in The New York Times website.

What Is It?

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down their decision regarding the Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. Harvard and UNC cases on June 29, 2023. In this lawsuit, SFFA claimed that Harvard University and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill were not adhering to current legal requirements for race-conscious admissions and that a key case authorizing race-conscious admissions should be overturned — Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), which authorized colleges to use race as one factor among many in their admissions to achieve the educational benefits that come from a diverse student body.

SFFA claimed that the admission programs of both Harvard and UNC were in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in any program or activity that receives Federal funds or other Federal financial assistance.” Harvard University, like almost all private institutions of higher education, accepts some federal financial aid for its students and is thus subject to this statute. SFFA claimed that UNC, as a public university, was also in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Why Does it Matter?

The Supreme Court’s decision in these cases significantly alters the way that higher education institutions can give weight to the race of applicants in their admission review. Since the 1970s, the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld challenges to race-conscious admissions practices—often called “affirmative action” in the media, etc. Now that the Court has ruled against use of race as a “plus” in  admissions decision-making, Middlebury will abide by the Court’s decision and adapt our policies, programs, and practices.  However, Middlebury continues to seek to identify students who want to live engaged and consequential lives in their communities, working across intellectual, geographic and cultural borders – it is our mission.

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