The National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) recently held a two-part webinar series that described potential outcome of the Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. Harvard and University of North Carolina cases currently before the Supreme Court.
Do No Harm obtained the recording of Part 2, titled Challenges to Race in Higher Education Admissions: Understanding the Issues and Getting Ready for the Supreme Court’s Decisions in SFFA v. Harvard/UNC. The session, presented by Art Coleman, managing partner of EducationCounsel, advises academic diversity officers on how to prepare for and respond to the upcoming decision, which is considering race-based admissions in the context of “a full array of policy and practice.” He urges participants to keep two core questions in mind: “What are the interests these institutions are trying to advance, and then how are they advancing them through certain race-conscious policies and practices?”
Coleman doesn’t stop with providing advice on what an institution must do and how much it must “sacrifice in its design to achieve diversity and not violate the law.” Nothing in the law, he says, requires an institution to sacrifice its mission and essential character to pursue diversity. However, how does “mission and essential character” align with Coleman’s recommendations for maintaining the status quo of race-based admissions?
As a member of its leadership, Coleman urges participants to refer to the College Board Access & Diversity Collaborative as an important digital resource to use in the months leading up to the Court’s decision. A check of the website reveals that the organization is a champion for “comprehensive, evidence-based, and legally sound” policies on access and diversity to support “historically underrepresented populations.” Its Access & Diversity Toolkit contains the section labeled “Making Connections: A Holistic Review of Key Strategies,” which provides recommendations taken from the Association of American Colleges (AAMC) regarding recruitment, admission, and retention of students whose selection is targeted based on holistic review.
Over the course of the 90-minute presentation, Coleman explains how the Court’s decision could result in a “potential tsunami” (precedent is significantly limited, but the consideration of race within the individual’s lived experience is still permitted) and “Armageddon for us” (SFFA wins outright, and the Court overturns the order in its entirety). As an example of “Armageddon,” he commented that future students will “be forced to tell incomplete stories about who they are” on their college applications if the Court decides in favor of SFFA.
While Coleman doesn’t want the DEI champions and public affairs officials at the academic institutions to be caught “flat-footed on the day of decision without much to say,” he has an even more intriguing recommendation. “A good catch-all exercise,” he says, “is engaging in the scrub of website language.” This involves avoiding descriptions of the institution’s policies or programs in a way that may communicate more legal risk or vulnerability than exists. This would be, as he put it, an “unforced error.” Coleman also instructs webinar participants to make it clear during on-campus conversations that this is not affirmative action or “a social justice remedial lane.” The primary message Coleman delivers is to “maintain our policies with minimal disruption” by developing a “set of enhancing policies.” He said that the Court’s decision is unlikely to have an effect on pathway programs and recruitment or outreach programs “as long as they are sort of open to all.” Is this an example of how he recommends institutions to “scrub” their website language in advance of the ruling?
Coleman closed the session with an impassioned response to the question, “Is there a proxy for race in admissions?” He replied that this question implies that the individual is “looking for a quick substitute that I don’t really care about, but I’ll do something just to get by with it.” Coleman referred to case law that that demonstrates the importance of being “grounded in authentic, mission-driven institutional interests,” and suggests that “looking for low-income students” or “students who have a specific affinity toward social justice” is a position that will generate more diversity than a neutral strategy.
NADOHE has long been a steadfast advocate of discriminatory DEI initiatives on college campuses and is dedicated to the promotion of practices that consider race in admission decisions. Providing a forum for Art Coleman to promote his brand of gamesmanship in this area is another in-kind contribution by NADOHE to the support of race-based discrimination in higher education institutions.
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