Statement on Race-Conscious Admissions and the Supreme Court


Today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision with respect to the race-conscious admissions policies of the Harvard University and the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. The Phi Beta Kappa Society strongly disagrees with the majority opinion which prohibits the consideration of race or ethnicity in admissions and is concerned about the implications of this decision for recruitment, scholarships, affinity groups, housing and other programming. This decision overturns long-established precedent permitting American universities to consider an applicant’s racial background among a wide range of other factors.

Phi Beta Kappa believes that a well-rounded student body, much like the well-rounded arts and sciences education at the heart of our mission, is essential to create a community of scholars that enhances the learning environment for everyone. Transformative arts and sciences education requires opportunities to encounter diverse ideas, perspectives, and experiences. Research has demonstrated that we generate ideas and knowledge, solve problems, and think critically better in environments rich in diversity.

Today’s opinion also compromises the Court’s long-standing commitment to academic freedom, a right that is indispensable for a vibrant culture and democracy that ultimately benefits all Americans. The Society reiterates its position, which the Court has historically endorsed, that it is best for universities in shared governance with faculty to determine on academic grounds: (i) who may teach, (ii) what may be taught, (iii) how it shall be taught, and (iv) who may be admitted to study. The Court acknowledges the constitutional “tradition of giving a degree of deference to a university’s admissions decisions.” This is as it should be. But the Society believes that this essential judicial deference was unduly limited today.

For almost 250 years, Phi Beta Kappa has stood for the highest academic standards. Although we disagree with today’s majority opinion, the Society calls on colleges and universities to support, recognize, and celebrate diverse and inclusive excellence in any means consistent with what the Court has decided. We would highlight that the Court held 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.” This is an important guarantee of an institution’s ability to achieve a legitimate and indeed compelling goal of comprising a diverse and inclusive community. We assure our members that we will support our chapter campuses in this crucial work.