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Justices ban affirmative action in college admissions. What's it mean for the future?


How will universities respond to a Supreme Court ruling on admissions? The court said yesterday that Harvard and the University of North Carolina may not use race as one factor in deciding who to admit. This affects other schools, including the 64 different colleges and universities that are part of the State University of New York system. John King Jr. is that giant system's chancellor. He's on the line. Good morning.

JOHN KING JR: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Have your schools used race as a factor in admissions up to now?

KING: Well, across our 64 institutions, there are a range of policies, but certainly at our four university centers and across our four medical schools, we have holistic admissions processes where diversity is a factor in how we determine admissions.

INSKEEP: When you say that, you're saying that at your more selective schools where fewer people of the applicants get in, you are using race as a factor in a way that sounds pretty similar to what Harvard and North Carolina did. Do you anticipate having to change things then?

KING: Well, we're reviewing now the policies at each of the institutions and how they'll be adjusted. You know, at the end of the day, diversity, equity and inclusion are core values for us as a system. We're going to work to make sure within the law we maintain a diverse class. Factors like socioeconomic status, whether or not a student is the first in their family to go to college, the ways in which students may have overcome adversity in their lives, including adversity tied to race - all of that will continue to be a factor and, again, consistent with the law.

INSKEEP: Just to be clear on what you're saying, you're not responding to this ruling and saying, seeking diversity in some way is wrong, and we're going to give it up. You're going to seek other ways to do it.

KING: That's exactly right. And I think that's the responsibility of the higher education sector.

KING: If we want a healthy democracy, we need to have diverse leaders. We need to have diverse teachers. We need to have diverse doctors. And higher education has to work to ensure that.

INSKEEP: It's an interesting distinction that is made in Justice Roberts opinion, also Clarence Thomas's concurring opinion for the majority. They essentially argue it is wrong to give an applicant credit just for being a member of a group. For example, just being Black should not get you a credit, entirely aside from what the Constitution says. Clarence Thomas especially doesn't like the idea, but he and Justice Roberts indicate that if you had some individual experience that you can highlight, that that is OK. Do you think that's going to be sufficient for individuals to call out circumstances in which they have had something they should get credit for?

KING: Look. Let's be clear. By removing the tool of race-conscious admissions, the evidence is it results in fewer Black and Latino students on campuses. That's what we saw in California and Michigan. The ability to look at individual experiences with adversity - that will help mitigate the harm of this decision. But ultimately, I think where the majority just misunderstands how the admissions process works, we're talking about a pool of students who are qualified. That's first. And then once we have a large pool of qualified students as we try to build a class, we want to consider diversity as we're building that class. And I think they're a bit disingenuous in trying to frame this in a way that suggests somehow unqualified students are being admitted. It just isn't factually accurate.

INSKEEP: They make another assertion that admissions is a zero-sum game. If you admit a Black student for being Black, to oversimplify a little bit here, you're rejecting a white student or rejecting an Asian student. Are they missing something when they say it that way?

KING: Yeah. Again, I think they're misrepresenting how the admissions process works. You know, there are policies at Harvard, for example, where students are admitted because they are legacies, because they are one of multiple generations in their family to go to Harvard. There are students who are admitted because they're a tuba player.


KING: There are students who are admitted because they're great lacrosse players. And so there's a range of factors as universities try to build a diverse class.

INSKEEP: OK. John B King Jr. is former education secretary and chancellor of the State University of New York. Thanks so much.

KING: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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