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The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees voted Thursday to prohibit the institution from considering race, sex or ethnicity in both admissions and hiring decisions, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.
“Race will not be a factor in admission decisions at the university,” university chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz declared after the vote, speaking to a large crowd outside the board’s meeting place at the Carolina Inn just off campus.
The vote took place during the board’s first in-person meeting since the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in June, a particularly harsh blow to Chapel Hill, which—along with Harvard University—was a defendant in the case. The defeat exacerbated last week's contentious board proceedings, which pitted conservative trustees against more moderate defenders of diversity practices—a division that has plagued the Chapel Hill board for years.
Before the vote, Trustee John Preyer called the ruling a “moment of humility” for Chapel Hill and asked his colleagues to consider the cost of its attempted defense of affirmative action.
“For nine years, we’ve spent in the neighborhood of $35 million to lose a high-profile case,” he said. “Why did we do that?”
The board passed the resolution banning racial considerations in admissions anyway and later amended it to include hiring as well. By expanding to hiring policies, Chapel Hill becomes the first institution to tie hiring to the court’s decision, a connection that has been asserted by Students for Fair Admissions, the group that brought the affirmative action case against the university.
Many legal experts say hiring is not part of the ruling’s purview, and others believe that the court allowed consideration of race as it pertains to an applicant’s lived experiences, both conclusions that the Chapel Hill board rejected in its resolution Thursday. But the vague wording of the Supreme Court’s decision has led many in higher ed to speculate on its potential implications beyond admissions.
Right before the vote, Trustee Ralph Meekins pleaded with his fellow board members to postpone the meeting so that they could seek the advice of legal counsel, which he believed would find the board’s actions were unnecessary to ensure legal compliance.
“I have a lot of reasons why I’m against this resolution,” he said. “For a fact, I know [it] goes well beyond the Supreme Court ruling.”
The board’s decision also comes after right-wing appointees in other states have ordered institutions to comply with the new legal restrictions on affirmative action in ways that might go beyond the scope of the ruling, which directly addressed only admissions practices. The same day the Supreme Court decision was handed down, Missouri’s attorney general ordered the state’s public colleges to eliminate scholarships for applicants of color. The University of Missouri promptly dropped its minority scholarships, but it has yet to adapt its hiring policies accordingly.