President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83 sent a statement to the University community on Thursday reaffirming Princeton’s commitment to diversity in its admissions policies after the Supreme Court overruled more than 50 years of precedent in the use of race in college admissions. Despite emphasizing the importance of having a diverse student body, Eisgruber provided no specific plan as to how the University will pursue admissions in the future, nor any specific hints as to what the strategy might be.
While there has been speculation about potential changes to financial aid, legacy admissions, essay topics, and targeted recruitment, many universities have released similar statements, with Harvard hinting that an essay on diversity may be part of their plan.
Eisgruber expressed opposition to the Court’s ruling, calling it “unwelcome and disappointing.”
Eisgruber acknowledged that while the decision narrows the University’s discretion in determining how best to find and attract students of all backgrounds, Princeton “will work vigorously to preserve — and, indeed, grow — the diversity of our community while fully respecting the law as announced today.”
In his January State of the University letter, Eisgruber anticipated the Court’s decision by writing that the University will “be creative and persistent in our efforts to preserve and build upon the diversity of our scholarly and educational community,” in a post-affirmative action world.
“I may have more to say after my colleagues and I have had an opportunity to examine the details of today’s decision,” Eisgruber wrote in Thursday’s statement.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) provided a list on Twitter of four possible steps for Universities committed to diversity and opportunity. These measures include eliminating standardized test scores in the admissions process, increasing financial aid, increasing recruitment efforts in underserved communities, and developing stronger pipelines from middle and high schools to college.
Meanwhile, universities like Yale, Brown, Dartmouth, Columbia, Cornell, and the University of Pennsylvania have released statements similar to Princeton’s that reaffirm the institution’s commitment to diversity, but do not offer specific steps or plans of action beyond reviewing the decision.
President Peter Salovey of Yale University wrote that “It will take some time to fully consider the implications of the Court’s decisions and review [Yale’s] admissions policies in light of them.”
“As we do this work, I write today to reaffirm Yale’s unwavering commitment to creating and sustaining a diverse and inclusive community,” Salovey wrote.
In a speech on Thursday, President Joe Biden criticized the ruling. He also called on the Department of Education to analyze potential measures to protect diversity within universities.
“We cannot let this decision be the last word,” Biden said.
Harvard University, the respondent in Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, wrote in a statement to students that it will “certainly comply with the Court’s decision,” while making note of how the decision holds that universities may consider an applicant’s discussion of how race affected their life in admissions decisions.
In the Harvard case, the Court ruled 6–2 that Harvard University’s policies taking race into account are unconstitutional, with the Court’s liberal justices dissenting. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson recused herself from the case, having attended Harvard and served on its Board of Overseers. In the companion case, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. University of North Carolina (UNC), the Court ruled 6–3 along ideological lines with a conservative majority. David L. Boliek Jr., chairman of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees, said that they will “work with the administration to ensure that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill complies fully with today’s ruling from the nation’s highest court.”
The case originated from two 2014 lawsuits against Harvard and UNC Chapel Hill in federal district courts. SFFA appealed the Harvard decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which ruled that Harvard’s policies did not discriminate against Asian American applicants, and that their measures for affirmative action passed the strict scrutiny test.
This process has called attention to Harvard’s specific admissions policies, particularly their “rating” system for six categories: “academic, extracurricular, athletic, school support, personal, and overall.” SFFA has consistently critiqued this system, alleging that Asian American students were consistently rated lower in the “personal” category. During the suit and oral arguments, Harvard denied any allegations of racial discrimination. Harvard further argued that SFFA’s proposed race-neutral means of achieving racial diversity were not sufficient, quoting the district court ruling that stated the proposed alternatives would require “sacrifices on almost every dimension important to Harvard’s admissions process.”
Princeton employs a “holistic admissions process” that has, according to Eisgruber, allowed “colleges and universities to take race into account as one factor among many.” In late 2022, around 120 Princeton students signed a petition in support of race-conscious admissions.
The University became just one in a handful of litigants in SFFA’s history. In 2015, after a seven-year investigation, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) found that the University’s admissions policies were not discriminatory, following two complaints filed by students of Asian descent.
In August 2022, the University joined 13 other colleges in signing an amicus brief in support of Harvard and UNC in their disputes with SFFA.
Michelle Obama ’85, one of the few Black students on Princeton’s campus back in the 1980s, issued a statement following the Court’s decisions. “I was proud of getting into such a respected school. I knew I’d worked hard for it,” she wrote.
“But still, I sometimes wondered if people thought I got there because of affirmative action. It was a shadow that students like me couldn’t shake, whether those doubts came from the outside or inside our own minds,” she continued. “But the fact is this: I belonged.”
In the dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor ’76, joined by Justices Elena Kagan ’81 and Jackson, wrote that the Court’s ruling “cements a superficial rule of colorblindness as a constitutional principle in an endemically segregated society where race has always mattered and continues to matter.” (Jackson only dissented in the UNC opinion.)
Sotomayor also called attention to past race-conscious efforts, such as the Freedmen’s Bureau, to argue that the 14th Amendment does not require colorblindness, further noting that an interest in student body diversity is not only grounded in equal protection, but also principles of “academic freedom,” which have been seen as a “special concern” of the First Amendment.
“Equality requires acknowledgment of inequality,” she wrote.
In 2004, three researchers at Princeton released a study about admissions preferences after the Gratz v. Bollinger decision in 2003. They found that “admission bonuses for athletes and legacies rival, and sometimes even exceed, the size of preferences for underrepresented minority applicants.”
They also found that “being African American instead of white is worth an average of 230 additional SAT points on a 1600-point scale, but recruited athletes reap an advantage equivalent to 200 SAT points … Hispanic applicants gain the equivalent of 185 points, which is only slightly more than the legacy advantage, which is worth 160 points. Coming from an Asian background, however, is comparable to the loss of 50 SAT points.”
The 2023–2024 Common Application, which is accepted by schools such as Princeton and Harvard, currently offers students an opportunity to potentially address race and identity in their applications to colleges. In addition to providing an “open-ended” essay question, the Common App also provides a personal statement prompt that asks applicants to discuss a “background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it.” There is also a question about facing challenges in one’s life, which echoes the language of the Court when discussing how a University can look at race within an application.
“Diversity is essential to the excellence of this University and to the future of our country and the world. Princeton will pursue it with energy, persistence, and a determination to succeed despite the restrictions imposed by the Supreme Court in its regrettable decision today,” Eisgruber wrote in the statement.
This piece is breaking and will be updated as more information becomes available.
Lia Opperman is an associate News editor for the ‘Prince.’
Sophie Glaser is an assistant Features editor and staff News writer for the ‘Prince.’
Abby Leibowitz is a staff News writer for the ‘Prince.’
Please send any corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story reported that Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania had not given statements on the Supreme Court’s ruling at the time of publication. This piece has since been updated to reflect their statements.