UNC’s Board of Trustees last week passed an antidiscrimination resolution aimed at more broadly applying the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down the use of race-based admissions programs at UNC.
Originally drafted by board member Marty Kotis ’91, the Resolution of the Board of Trustees of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Concerning Civil Rights said, in part, that UNC “shall not unlawfully discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment … in its admissions, hiring and contracting practices.”
Kotis said the concept of the resolution is to ensure compliance with the Supreme Court ruling “and to make sure that we’re affording equal protection to all of our students and faculty and contractors out there.” He said people are anticipating a follow-up at some point to the court’s decision “that will delve in and look at compliance issues as well as where this spills over into other areas that we’ve discussed.”
Kotis said the resolution is needed “to make sure that everyone feels like they have an equal opportunity when they’re applying to UNC or for a position to be hired or for a contract position.”
Kotis said he wrote an antidiscrimination paragraph for the board to consider in 2021, and additional language was added in March and again at this week’s board meeting.
“I certainly understand that we want to be a university for all of North Carolina, and I’m always reminding people that we are here to serve the people of the state,” Kotis said. “I think we have a strong commitment to do that, and we need to understand the root causes of why we may not be getting various applicants, whether it’s for admissions or for a job, and try to sort those out. I think it’s a good thing to dig into the root causes versus trying to act like there’s not an issue or problem.”
In June, the Supreme Court, in a 6–3 decision split along ideological lines, ruled the admissions programs at UNC and Harvard University that relied in part on racial considerations violated the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. The schools’ approaches “lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping and lack meaningful end points,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. in the majority opinion. The lawsuit was brought by Students for Fair Admissions Inc.
Roberts wrote the majority opinion doesn’t prohibit “universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration or otherwise,” but some legal experts predict the decision will lead to a sharp drop in Black and Hispanic students at elite public universities nationwide.
During trustees meeting on July 26, when the board discussed the resolution, UNC’s Chief Audit Officer Dean Weber said he needed to present a matter related to the Office of Internal Audit assessing compliance with nondiscrimination requirements.
“Diversity Equity and Inclusion topics, referred to as DEI, are currently on the forefront within the higher education landscape,” Weber said. “This encompasses DEI concerns within the student admission process, human resources, hiring, contracting as well as perceived or actual occurrences of structural racism within policy. The chair of this committee [Kotis] reached out to me to discuss the management of DEI risk and asked me to consider how internal audit could potentially support an independent assessment of activities within these spaces.”
Weber said the Supreme Court decision issued in June impacts the admission processes at Carolina, and the University is adapting admissions practices to fully comply with the ruling.
To address structural racism, Weber said, the UNC System, UNC and state government are “reviewing and addressing laws and organizational policies right now that have been created over time and may support in some instances perceived unfair advantages for some people or harmful treatment of others based on race or ethnic groups.” He said University leadership “continues here to be very proactive in assessing, and works to eliminate, perceived or potential structural racism at UNC.”
On July 27, member Ralph Meekins Sr. ’83 asked the board to consider tabling the vote on the antidiscrimination resolution until he could share his concerns and conversations he’d had with an attorney, whom he did not identify, concerning some of its language. The board did not consider delaying a vote on the resolution, which Boliek said was approved by the audit, compliance and risk management committee in March.
After the board meeting, Meekins said he’s concerned the resolution may go “beyond what the Supreme Court has just done. … It puts us in a situation to be exposed in areas where we’re not now.”
Meekins said the University follows discrimination policies and thinks the resolution is unnecessary. He also said he dislikes that the resolution was passed so soon after the Supreme Court decision, and he takes issue with the use of the words civil rights in its title because he thinks it may offend African Americans or other people.
Boliek said the policy of UNC should be to promote equal opportunity for everyone, regardless of a person’s race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age or disability.
“In discharging its role of oversight, this board has already begun to work alongside the administration to ensure that the University complies fully with the Supreme Court ruling,” Boliek said. “Prior to the ruling, the board and the chancellor had productive discussions about preparations and contingent plans depending upon how the court might rule.”
Boliek said he has no issues with the resolution and doesn’t think the Supreme Court decision will deter Carolina from attracting a diverse pool of students.
In a separate issue, BOT Vice Chair John Preyer ’91 questioned Carolina’s effort to defend itself against the lawsuit, which was first filed in 2014. “I think that it’s instructive … to reflect on what’s happened with the Supreme Court case where, for nine years, we’ve spent in the neighborhood of $35 million to lose a high-profile case, in which we were found to have been in violation of the 14th Amendment,” he said. “I want everybody to think about it because this is a moment of humility. I know that a lot of people thought we were fighting a good fight, and it needed to be fought, but as it turns out we were doing something we actually shouldn’t have been doing.”
Preyer questioned whether the University would have been better off spending the $35 million on providing reduced or free tuition “as opposed to trying to litigate a position that ultimately was found to be in violation of the law.”
After the ruling, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz announced UNC will provide free tuition for students whose household income is below $80,000.
Through the UNC Office of Media Relations, Guskiewicz declined to comment on Preyer’s remarks.
– Laurie D. Willis ’86