Deans at the University of Colorado School of Medicine (CUSOM) expressed “disappointment” with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that race-based admissions policies are unconstitutional and affirmed in a statement they “remain fully committed to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion,” documents show.
Emails obtained by Do No Harm via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests reveal that, on June 29, in response to the Court’s decision, Carol Rumack, M.D., CUSOM associate dean for the Graduate Medical Education (GME) community, sent a draft statement for review to Shanta Zimmer, M.D., senior associate dean for education and associate dean for diversity and inclusion, and Linda Montgomery, M.D., family medicine residency director.
Rumack stressed it was her plan to “send this statement by the end of today to the entire GME community.”
The statement reflects a claim that “the diversity of the physician work force” is tied to “achieving excellence in medicine and science,” and also indicates GME’s concurrence with the joint statement of university president Todd Saliman and Donald Elliman, Jr., chancellor of the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, as well as that of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), regarding the Court’s ruling.
“[W]e are also disappointed by the U.S. Supreme Court decision to prohibit the limited consideration of an applicant’s racial or ethnic background in admissions decisions,” Rumack’s statement read, affirming CUSOM GME programs “remain fully committed to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion for the health of the patients and communities we serve.”
In their joint release, Saliman, Elliman, and other CU officials wrote their school “is unwavering in its commitment to fostering a diverse, inclusive and equitable environment … Diversity, Inclusion, Equity & Access is one of the four pillars of our strategic plan, and our commitment to this pillar will not diminish.”
The officials also indicated they will employ a “whole student” admission process:
We will continue to employ admission processes that consider the whole student and their ability to succeed in our academically rigorous and supportive environment. Our dedication to cultivating a diverse university community runs deep. In fact, our board has set policy that makes it clear that diversity encompasses demographic characteristics while also encompassing diverse life experiences and perspectives.
Also on June 29, Zimmer forwarded an email message reaction to the SCOTUS decision from Michael Harris-Love, DSc, who heads the CUSOM Physical Therapy Program.
In his comments, Harris-Love appeared to be speculating about whether the health professions could be “exempt from the SCOTUS decision”:
Interestingly, the ruling allows that certain occupational segments of society linked to public safety such as the armed forces and military academies are “distinct interests” which are exempt from the SCOTUS decision. It will be a matter of continued national debate and federal jurisprudence to reassess if the health professions also constitute a distinct societal interest intrinsically linked to public health and safety.
Harris-Love further recommended a “holistic review process” for admissions which, he wrote, was “championed by Dr. Canham and the Recruitment and Admissions Committee,” as the means “to do our part in building a more inclusive student body and profession.”
“I will be contacting Committee Chairs, Coordinators, and Section Directors to conduct a review of our policies concerning student admissions and recruitment scholarships,” he said. “This step will further our efforts to remain in compliance while keeping our focus on the university and program academic mission.”
The FOIA email documents reveal that, immediately following the release of the Court’s decision, CUSOM officials began messaging each other about an interview request from education media outlet Chalkbeat for reactions to the ruling.
The Chalkbeat bureau chief expressed interest in an interview, rather than just CU Boulder Chancellor Phillip DiStefano’s formal statement she was sent:
As I’m sure you can appreciate, in our stories we try to go beyond just reprinting portions of formal statements. I would love to talk to someone in admissions about what steps are still accessible to you in terms of recruiting diverse students and what you might have to stop doing. Other states that have banned the use of race in admissions and have struggled to maintain the diversity they had before that policy change, so I really want to hear about the practical steps you plan to take — things that will be meaningful to readers beyond the value statements.
The email documents suggest CUSOM officials wanted to appear supportive of statements opposed to the SCOTUS ruling.
In an email dated June 30, Dean John Reilly, Jr., M.D. wrote to AAMC requesting that his school be added “to the list of signatories for the AAMC statement on the SCOTUS decision concerning the consideration of race in education admissions.”
Between June 29 and July 6, the documents show an email thread that includes Zimmer, Mark Couch, chief of staff and associate dean of public relations, and Christopher Read, CUSOM data manager, regarding “data on class diversity” for classes of 2023-2026.
“Dean asks for current numbers in medical class diversity,” Crouch emailed Zimmer and others on June 29. “Can you please send asap?”
After Read sent the data, Zimmer thanked him and asked if he could provide their source.
“I often get different info depending on our source,” she wrote. “Also, we have the ability for some students to check multiple boxes.”
“The data was pulled from AAMC reports and the individual flavors of race and ethnicity were further grouped,” Read responded.
On July 5, Zimmer received an email from colleague Jaime Daly who inquired about procedure with admissions interviews following the SCOTUS ruling.
“I know you said that our current cycle of applications wouldn’t be affected by the decision, but I am wondering if we can still have our DEI discussion on interview day,” Daly asked. “Usually, Dr. Clavijo will talk to our applicants for 15 minutes or so about the department’s DEI initiatives and discuss our DEI scholarship. Is this still okay? I’m hoping it is but want to make sure.”
“Yes, totally fine!” responded Zimmer.
The email records show as well that, on July 6, Regina Richards, Ph.D., vice chancellor of DEI and community engagement, asked CUSOM’s “DEI Liaisons” for the following information: “What are the top 3-5 strategies your school/college utilizes for targeted recruitment and retention of minority students?”
Zimmer responded for the “MD Program:” “Attendance at Recruitment fairs (LMSA, Atlanta HBCUs, AAMC, SNMAO); Diversity Scholarships; Holistic Review; Implicit Bias training of admissions committee; Affinity group outreach; Second look days; and Tracking of applicants, interviews, acceptances, matriculants.”
The University of Colorado School of Medicine is clearly discussing ways in which it can circumvent the Supreme Court’s decision to ban the consideration of race in the medical school admission process. These discussions should not be taking place, and may even be describing measures that do not align with federal law. Instead, CUSOM must make legitimate plans on how it will recruit and admit the applicants who will make the most competent and successful future doctors.
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