Stanford University is among the 15 private universities that have joined together in "one voice" in an amicus brief to defend Harvard University against a lawsuit alleging race-based discrimination in admissions.
A nonprofit group called Students for Fair Admissions accused Harvard in 2014 of discriminating against Asian-American applicants. The ensuing federal trial — which has attracted national attention and pulled back the curtain on opaque, elite admissions decisions — ended in Boston on Friday. Harvard has denied the claims and defended its commitment to diversity.
The amicus brief, filed by Stanford's Office of the General Counsel in August, argues that "individualized and holistic review of applications is the best means that universities can employ in pursuit of meaningful diversity" and that race-neutral admissions are "unworkable."
"Universities should not be ordered to blind themselves to race and ethnicity as they seek to gain insight into each applicant and to build a class that is more than the sum of its part," the brief reads.
In the brief, the colleges and universities emphasize the importance and value of a student body that is diverse in background, including race, ethnicity, faith and life experiences. While they take race into consideration it's not the "defining feature." These schools do not reserve spots in any given class for applicants of a particular race or ethnicity, they write in the brief.
The brief argues that race-neutral admissions policies would harm their diversity efforts, pointing to the University of California system, which under a 1997 state proposition is barred from considering race in admissions with the goal of increasing minority student representation. Enrollment numbers for underrepresented minorities "have not rebounded at UC's most selective campuses" since 1997 nor have overall enrollment numbers at UCs kept up with demographic changes in California, according to an amicus brief the president and chancellors of the University of California filed in a 2013 University of Texas affirmative action case.
"A 'race-blind' version of holistic review would also defeat the purpose of a truly individualized assessment for many applicants," the brief states. "It would be entirely antithetical to this approach to ignore a facet of an applicant's identity that may, to that individual, play an essential role in shaping his or her outlook and experience."
Stanford and the other universities argue that admissions decisions are protected under the First Amendment: "It would be an extraordinary infringement on universities' academic freedom to decree that institutions of higher education cannot consider race at all in seeking to obtain that diversity."
The other higher education institutions that are part of the amicus brief are: Brown University, Case Western Reserve University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Duke University, Emory University, George Washington University, Johns Hopkins University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt University, Washington University in St. Louis and Yale University.
There is no timeline for the judge's opinion on the Harvard case but national media outlets have reported that U.S. District Court Judge Allison Burroughs may release an opinion in early 2019. Both sides have said they plan to appeal.