By Northwestern University President Michael Schill:
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two cases filed against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that could profoundly alter the future of higher education in America. Petitioners will ask the court to overturn decades of precedent that have allowed the use of race as one of many factors in making decisions about admission to our nation’s colleges and universities. Doing so would cause lasting damage to American universities and to our nation.
Based on my experience as president of two internationally prominent universities and dean of two top law schools, I conclude that the damage to our educational system and our nation would be significant if considerations of race were taken off the table. At the outset, let’s clear away the underbrush: No universities, to my knowledge, are proposing racial quotas or using a prospective student’s race as the primary justification for admission. Instead, race is one among myriad considerations that our admissions professionals take into account in assessing applicants and shaping a class. In admissions-speak, this is called holistic review.
One might ask, why might race be a legitimate consideration in assessing whether to admit a person into a university? Two reasons among many stand out. The first is focused on the individual student and the second on the broader community. As was further crystallized by the pandemic, in modern America race is deeply intertwined with each of our experiences, life histories and the opportunities we might avail ourselves of. A young child growing up on the South Side of Chicago is likely to have dramatically fewer educational resources at their disposal than someone growing up in Wilmette, a suburb less than 35 miles away — fewer guidance counselors, larger classes, sparse college prep courses and fewer role models who themselves have gone on to college.