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The Supreme Court's decision to disallow affirmative action is expected to result in more white and Asian students and fewer Black and Hispanic students at elite universities like Cornell.

June 29, 2023

As Supreme Court Strikes Down Affirmative Action, Pollack Reaffirms Cornell’s Commitment to Diversity

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The Supreme Court ruled that using race in college admissions decisions — a practice known as affirmative action — is in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment on Thursday, June 29.

Two cases, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina, were ruled in a 6-2 and 6-3 decision, respectively, against the practice.

“The Harvard and U.N.C. admissions programs cannot be reconciled with the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. wrote in the majority opinion. “Both programs lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping and lack meaningful end points. We have never permitted admissions programs to work in that way, and we will not do so today.” 

President Martha Pollack issued a statement in response to the decision, reaffirming Cornell’s commitment to “any person…any study” and signaling its dissatisfaction and disapproval with the Supreme Court.

“As always, Cornell will follow the law, but within its scope we will remain a welcoming community, with strong core values and an unwavering adherence to our historic founding principle: to be a university where ‘any person can find instruction in any study,’” Pollack said.

Currently, according to the student enrollment factbook, Cornell’s undergraduate population is 32.7 percent white, while Black, Hispanic and indigenous students make up 24.8 percent of the undergraduate population. Asian and Asian-white students make up 26.3 percent of the population. The remainder of undergraduate students are either of unknown race or international students, whose race is not categorized. 

According to The New York Times, the decision is likely to cause student populations at elite universities such as Cornell to become more white and Asian and less Black and Latino. 

The decision comes as diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives face attacks from conservative groups around the country. Prof. Randy O. Wayne, plant biology, argued in a New York Post editorial that free expression and DEI cannot coexist.

“DEI hurts students most, denying them the opportunity to discover their own truths and the ways it might be used to benefit them and society,” Wayne wrote. 

This came after Pollack affirmed to The Sun her commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in a Sun interview.

“Let’s not call attacks on DEI defenses of free speech — both those things can coexist,” Pollack said in the interview. “I think at universities, both those things must coexist.”

Both Harvard and UNC have also issued statements disagreeing with the Court’s affirmative action decision, with both statements highlighting the need for a diverse campus to better build their communities.

“We continue to believe, deeply, that a thriving, diverse intellectual community is essential to academic excellence and critical to shaping the next generation of leaders,” Claudine Gay, Harvard president-elect, said in a recorded video. “Every day, this is borne out in Harvard classrooms, where our students have the chance to put their ideas into conversation with other points of view, experiences and perspectives.”

UNC’s statement, delivered by Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz, echoed much of Gay’s statement and committed to maintaining diversity on its campus.

“Carolina is committed to bringing together talented students with different perspectives and life experiences and to making an affordable, high-quality education accessible to the people of North Carolina and beyond,” Guskiewicz said. “We are passionately public, and that will always be true. Our strategic plan’s first initiative is to ‘Build our Community Together.’ We will build that community with you and work to provide a campus environment where all of our students know they belong and can thrive.”