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Kentucky colleges reconsider affirmative action policies in wake of SCOTUS ruling

University of Louisville's Grawemeyer Hall / U of L
J. Tyler Franklin
University of Louisville's Grawemeyer Hall

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that two schools’ race-conscious admissions policies were unconstitutional. It means some Kentucky schools may have to change the way they review applicants.

The Court issued a 6-3 decision ruling that admissions policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are unconstitutional. The conservative majority of justices decided that the way the schools considered applicants’ race violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which provides for equal protection under the law.

The decision throws into question admissions policies of many predominantly white institutions across the country, including in Kentucky. Many have used race-conscious admissions since the late 1960s to increase the number of non-white students, especially Black students and Latino students, who have historically been excluded..

Several Kentucky colleges and universities issued statements Thursday morning saying they are reviewing the decision to see how it impacts their admissions policies.

“As the most diverse non-HBCU among Kentucky’s public colleges and universities, UofL will continue to be committed to diversity among our students, faculty and staff,” a statement from the University of Louisville reads.

“Through legally permissible means, we will continue to foster and sustain an environment of inclusiveness that empowers all to achieve their highest potential.”

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto said in a statement that the university will “continue to review this decision as we prepare to fully comply with the law as described in today’s rulings.”

“At the same time, we will remain focused on our priority as an institution — to be a community of care, compassion and belonging for everyone, regardless of who they are and regardless of how someone defines their humanity and identity.”

Capilouto noted that the Court did leave some room for the consideration of an applicant’s race.

In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that “nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.”

Capilouto described the decision as having “restricted the consideration of race with respect to admissions and scholarships.”

“However,” Capilouto wrote, “it appears we can consider an applicant’s discussion of how race has affected their life.”

The UNC and Harvard policies the court struck down were complex, and race was one of many factors schools considered in making their final decisions. In a pool of equally qualified applicants, a person’s race played a role in whether they made the final cut.

Racial quotas have been illegal since 1978, when the Supreme Court ruled against California’s race-based quota system for college admissions.However, the Court ruled several times since that race can be considered in other ways.

Thursday’s ruling overturns those decades of precedent.

Some states already had restrictions on race-conscious admissions before the ruling, including California, Washington and Michigan. Kentucky is not one of them.

Leading universities in states that banned affirmative action saw a steep drop in minority student enrollment, according to reporting from the AP.

Here are statements from other Kentucky colleges and universities on the ruling:

Centre College

Centre College prepares students for lives of learning, leadership, and service. We educate future leaders and global citizens who will create a better tomorrow for the generations that follow. To engage with fellow students, faculty, and staff from varied backgrounds and with different experiences is at the very heart of a liberal arts and sciences education. Our community flourishes when we are agile, open to new ideas, engage with people who have different identities and pursue our curiosities. That is Centre’s foundation for building an inclusive community.

The College’s longstanding, holistic approach to the admission recruitment and selection process seeks to understand each applicant’s specific interests, both academic and co-curricular, in combination with their life circumstances and experiences so that we may personalize support when we invite students to join the Centre community. 

As always, we will continue to review our admissions processes and practices to ensure that we remain in compliance with federal law.

Bellarmine University

We are reviewing today’s ruling for any potential impact on our operations, but Bellarmine takes — and will continue to take — a holistic approach when reviewing applications for admission, to ensure that every applicant receives consideration based on factors that take into account their accomplishments inside and outside the classroom.

Our mission is to educate students in mind, body and spirit, with respect for the intrinsic value and dignity of every individual. We remain fully committed to providing students from all backgrounds a transformational educational experience, as evidenced by our increased focus on affordability and accessibility. Through our comprehensive efforts to attract students from varying geographic, socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, we anticipate welcoming the most diverse first-year class in the university’s history this fall. In welcoming more diverse students to our community, we strive to provide an inclusive environment that fosters a sense of belonging and supports every opportunity for their academic and interpersonal success.

Murray State University

The ruling by the Supreme Court does not change our continued commitment to a diverse campus and student body through our recruitment and admissions efforts.

Derek Operle contributed to this report.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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