The old saying goes: “Everyone will get their day in court.” And affirmative action has had six days in the nation’s highest court. In the 1978 Supreme Case case Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, race was upheld as a permissible consideration in college admission processes. But the U.S. Supreme Court was quick to clarify that racial quotas are unconstitutional. Private universities, like GW, haven’t been affected by court rulings on affirmative action – at most they’ve been indirectly affected. But that could change with the ruling on a 2014 lawsuit against Harvard University.
New racial quotas at private universities is at the heart of a dispute between the advocacy group Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) and Harvard University. SFFA filed a lawsuit claiming that Harvard University’s admissions practices discriminate against Asian-American applicants by establishing quotas. Harvard must release its admissions data from 2009-2015 to prove that the alleged claim is untrue.
Harvard officials have tried to evade this court order, but other private universities – including GW – should proactively release their admissions data. If GW released anonymous admissions data in full, it would be a valuable step toward transparency in light of past admissions scandals. And perhaps most importantly, it would hold the University accountable to fair and constitutional admissions practices.
“We publicly post university records in accordance with federal and local laws and regulations,” Maralee Csellar, a university spokeswoman, said in an email. Csellar declined to comment on whether the admissions office uses affirmative action practices.
Officials must not cross the line between admissions “goals” and “quotas” when it comes to their affirmative action policies: A goal is a race-aware policy aimed at preserving opportunity and preventing discrimination. A quota, as defined by the Supreme Court case Grutter v. Bollinger, is a “program in which a certain number or proportion of opportunities are ‘reserved exclusively for certain minority groups.”
Racial quotas keep students who deserve spots in a class from being admitted. In the SFFA suit against Harvard, one Asian-American individual was denied admissions to Harvard’s graduating class of 2018. The SFFA will argue that they were rejected because all of the spots in the racial quota for Asian-Americans were filled. The first-generation student graduated high school at the top of their class, excelled in extracurriculars and even achieved a perfect score on the ACT. But this type of discrimination against Asian-Americans happens frequently in college admissions. One study found that in order to be accepted into America’s top Universities, Asian-Americans need to have scored an average of 140 points higher on their SAT’s.
No one has filed such a suit against GW for abusing affirmative action policies, so the only way to expose any unfair practices, like racial quotas, would be for the University to release its admissions data. But unfortunately, GW’s history with honest admissions practices isn’t spotless: In November 2012, the University revealed that it had been inflating key admissions data for over a decade. The University had used methodology that estimated that 78 percent of incoming freshmen were in the top ten percent of their classes, when only about 58 percent had.
In 2012, GW had been ranked 51st in U.S. News and World Report’s Top National University annual publication, but the following year, U.S. News punished GW by demoting it’s status to “unranked.” The University was urged to release the resulting investigative report about the admissions office, but that plea was never fulfilled. Officials didn’t quite learn their lesson because in 2013 news broke that the University had misrepresented their non-existent “need-blind” admissions policy. Then, we must ask: Can GW be trusted to report its admissions policies on race, given its history on data reporting? If not, then it would take a lawsuit for any admissions data abuses to come to light.
Unfortunately, it is unprecedented for a university to release comprehensive admissions data unless subpoenaed by a court. But this is a chance for GW to hold itself to a higher standard and set an example for other universities.
Following its murky past, publishing admissions data would be a monumental step for the University’s lack of transparency. Releasing this data would also hold GW accountable to constitutional affirmative action policies. Even if GW refuses to release such documents, that doesn’t mean it can just rely on its current policies to ensure a diverse campus. As Justice Anthony Kennedy remarked in the opinion of Fisher v. University of Texas, “It is the University’s ongoing obligation to engage in constant deliberation and continued reflection regarding its admissions policies.”
Sydney Erhardt, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.