Since filing this lawsuit in 2014, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), a private organization dedicated to ending the consideration of race in college admissions, repeatedly has misrepresented Carolina’s holistic admissions approach. Time and again, false and irresponsible allegations in SFFA’s complaint collapsed for lack of factual support. Others were abandoned during the federal court trial, only to reappear on appeal as if no trial ever happened.
A federal trial court concluded in 2021 that SFFA’s claims are baseless, and it ruled decisively in the University’s favor.
The following examples illustrate the credibility gap between SFFA’s representations to the U.S. Supreme Court and the trial court’s factual findings and conclusions.
SFFA Claim: UNC ignores the commands of Supreme Court precedent.
Fact: “In describing how the Admissions Office may use race, ethnicity, or national origin, the document repeatedly cites Supreme Court precedent as guideposts for its policy.” (p. 25, Court decision)
SFFA Claim: UNC’s admissions process has a constant focus on race, and race is the focus when applications are reviewed.
Fact: “ The Admissions Office also trains readers specifically on how to consider race and ethnicity in the evaluation process. During this training, [UNC’s Admissions Reading Document] “remind[s] readers that the University aims to enroll a diverse class across multiple dimensions, including but not limited to diversity of experience; ideas; backgrounds; socioeconomic status; racial and ethnic background; and first-generation college status.” (p. 23, Court decision)
Fact: … “To that end, the Admissions Office “instruct[s] readers to consider each applicant as an individual based on all relevant factors revealed in his or her application in order to understand the candidate holistically and comprehensively.” … Race and ethnicity, therefore, must be considered “as one factor among many based on a holistic review of all circumstances relevant to an individual applicant.” … Further, readers are instructed that “there are no quotas, fixed points, or separate admissions processes based on a particular candidate’s race or ethnicity.” (p. 23, Court decision)
Fact: The Court finds that at no time in the admissions process are candidates considered in separate groups according to their race nor is a candidate insulated from comparison with all other applicants. … Race is one of more than forty criteria considered in every application, and the evaluation process is flexible enough to consider all of the pertinent elements of diversity that may be present for any particular applicant. Finally, UNC’s policies are clear that race may never be used as the defining feature of a candidate’s evaluation.” (p. 30-31, Court decision)
Trial Court: “… In sum, while there is strong evidence that University leadership has adopted checks, balances, and quality control measures to ensure that its policy of incorporating a holistic admissions policy is followed at all stages of the process by all participants, Plaintiff has provided no evidence to show that this process has been used inappropriately.” (p. 37-38, Court decision)
SFFA Claim: A student’s race is often “determinative” — a deciding factor — when the admissions office admits or denies an applicant.
Fact: “… while a “plus” that is awarded may be significant in an individual case and tip the balance towards the admission of the student, it is not automatically awarded, and not considered in terms of numeric points or as the defining feature of an application. Even if awarded, a “plus” does not automatically result in an offer of admission.” (p. 30, Court decision, quoting UNC Admissions Reading Document, p. 7)
Trial Court: “Even assuming some of Plaintiff’s expert’s imputations accurately reflected the admissions process, SFFA’s expert’s analysis showed that fewer than 5% of admissions decisions would be affected by the use of race during the analyzed period.” (p. 93, Court decision)
SFFA Claim: According to simulations performed by SFFA’s expert, Carolina’s admissions data showed stark racial disparities in admission rates among similarly qualified applicants. The expert testified at trial that applicants with the same academic index — the combination of test scores and GPAs — had widely different admission rates by race.
‘Trial Court: “… there is no statistical evidence before the Court that there are any individual students for whom race has been the defining feature of their application. When considered as part of the admissions process writ large, the Court credits Professor [Carolyn] Hoxby’s finding [UNC’s expert] that race plays a role in a very small percentage of decisions: 1.2% for in-state students and 5.1% for out-of-state students. Even assuming some of [SFFA Expert] Professor [Peter] Arcidiacono’s imputations accurately reflected UNC’s process, his analysis showed that fewer than 5% of admission decisions would be affected by the use of race over the course of the six-year period the experts analyzed. Further, race appears to be less than or equally important to several other data points considered within a holistic process.” (p. 93, Court decision)
SFFA Claim: Carolina has not made a serious effort to consider race-neutral alternatives as required by the Supreme Court. UNC rejects any race-neutral alternative that would change the composition of the student body, even if those alternatives would improve overall student body diversity.
Trial Court: “…UNC has engaged in serious, good faith consideration of potential, workable RNAs (race-neutral alternatives) and has already implemented several of the most promising ideas. (p. 94, Court decision)
Trial Court: “Moreover, the University engages in ongoing periodic reviews to assess both the validity of emerging strategies and the extent to which UNC’s efforts are achieving the educational benefits of diversity that are consistent with the critical mass it seeks.
Trial Court: “Through an exhaustive exploration of RNAs that have been implemented and others that are purely theoretical, the University has shown that there are not any available, workable, or sufficient RNAs that would allow it to achieve its diversity goals. Accordingly, the Court finds that UNC has satisfied its burden of demonstrating that there is no non-racial approach that would promote such benefits about as well as its race-conscious approach at tolerable expense.” (p. 94, Court decision)