Lawsuit calls UNC admissions practices unfair

The use of race in UNC applications will be questioned in court.

Legal defense foundation Project on Fair Representation filed the lawsuit Monday against UNC on behalf of Students for Fair Admissions Inc., claiming that UNC and Harvard University have violated applicants’ 14th Amendment rights.

“UNC-Chapel Hill’s undergraduate admissions policies and procedures have injured and continue to injure Plaintiff’s members by intentionally and unconstitutionally discriminating against them on the basis of their race and ethnicity,” the suit states.


The Supreme Court case Fisher v. University of Texas: 

  • Abigail Fisher, a white woman, claimed she was denied admission to the University of Texas because of affirmative action policies.
  • The Supreme Court handed the case back down to lower courts in June 2013 after it ruled in favor of Fisher on the basis that the use of race in admissions violated her 14th Amendment rights.
  • The Fifth Circuit voted in favor of the university and said it could use race as part of a holistic admissions process if it cannot achieve diversity any other way.

“Rather, UNC-Chapel Hill’s racial preference for each underrepresented minority student (which equates to a penalty imposed upon white and Asian-American applicants) is so large that race becomes the ‘defining feature of his or her application.’”

The plaintiff in UNC’s case is Students for Fair Admissions Inc., a group made up of students who have applied to competitive universities and been denied, along with parents, high school students and others, said Edward Blum, director of the Project on Fair Representation.

Blum said his organization encourages colleges and universities to stop classifying applicants based on race.

“UNC could end their policies tomorrow, and we encourage them to do that,” Blum said.

He said Asian-American students are being harmed by UNC’s admissions policies.

“Sadly, Asians in particular are being discriminated against at UNC because lesser-qualified African-Americans, Hispanics — and even whites — are gaining admission at the expense of better-qualified Asians,” Blum said.

Rick White, associate vice chancellor for communications and public affairs, said in a statement that the University’s admissions processes are completely legal.

“The University stands by its current undergraduate admissions policy and process. 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,” White said in the statement.

Blum said that it does not matter that the admissions policies were deemed consistent with the law in 2012, because that law saw a change in 2013.

“In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down an important opinion in Abigail Fisher v. The University of Texas,” Blum said. “In that case, the justices raised the hurdles that colleges and universities must overcome before they use race.”

Junior Victoria Lai, who is Asian-American, said she thinks race should be considered — to an extent.

“I think that highly qualified individuals should be admitted, but it’s not right to ignore those in a lesser group who may not have the same credentials but may be the first in their family to go to college,” she said.

Sophomore Maddie Norris, who is white, said she did not feel that her race was a factor in her admission.

“Where you get into college can seem like complete chance, and a lot of times, the admission process didn’t make sense to me, but I thought that my own merits were being assessed in the process, not my race,” she said.

Blum said his group has been met with a lot of resistance. He said he knows it might take years for a court to rule on the case.

“It is our hope that the courts will compel UNC to stop using race in admissions policies and instead implement some race-neutral alternatives that will create diversity without racial classifications.”

Thanks for reading.

Read more in UNC Office of Undergraduate AdmissionsUNC & Higher EdUNC-Chapel Hill

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