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An education law professor on why race should be considered in college applications


Let's bring in Dana Thompson Dorsey. She teaches education and policy at the University of South Florida in Tampa - joined us earlier to talk about this. She is a proponent of affirmative action in education. Welcome back.

And we are not hearing Professor Dorsey. We'll just talk here for a moment about this Supreme Court ruling and see if we can get her back. We'll note that we are considering a ruling by the United States Supreme Court delivered from the bench, as they say, this morning, in which Chief Justice John Roberts spoke for the majority - 6-to-3 majority, 6-to-2 in part of the decision - in which the court held that it was improper for Harvard University and the University of North Carolina to use race as one of numerous factors in considering university admissions.

And now we have Dana Thompson Dorsey. Professor Dorsey, welcome back.

DANA THOMPSON DORSEY: Thank you. Can you hear me?

INSKEEP: Yes, I can hear you just fine. I hope you were able to hear at least a little bit of Nina Totenberg's summary of the judgment, and I'm sure you've been reading it as well where you are. What do you think?

THOMPSON DORSEY: Well, you know, the decision was disappointing, but not surprising. I think most of us expected that that would be the decision. I was listening to Nina Totenberg talk about Justice Roberts' decision and about the 14th Amendment and how that was supposed to bring about true equality. But, of course, we had Jim Crow. I think we all would like to believe that's what the 14th Amendment was supposed to do. It hasn't done that. We're still living in an American society where structural racism and discrimination is very prevalent. That cannot be denied, including, and especially, in education.

INSKEEP: The Harvard University - the description in the ruling of Harvard University's process for selecting university applicants at the very end said four factors could give people an extra leg up. One was participation in athletics, one was financial aid need, one was legacies - did your father, grandfather, grandmother go to Harvard University? - and one was race. Only one of those four special considerations has been cut out today.


INSKEEP: Was that correct in your view?

THOMPSON DORSEY: Well, no, I don't agree with it. But race is also analyzed on a much higher judicial scrutiny level. It's called strict scrutiny, and it's a very high bar to reach, as opposed to if you're talking about income or legacies. That would be a lower level of analysis called rational basis. So why I don't agree with the decision - it - I understand why they reached this decision because race as a factor is - it's a very hard bar to get over when you're talking about judicial scrutiny.

INSKEEP: OK, talk me through the possibilities of what universities could do now. We began that discussion with Nina.


INSKEEP: Do you see ways that universities could pursue this goal in the light of this ruling? If you're a university chancellor, a university president, and you think, I want to have a diverse student body, I don't want to end up all with one group of people, I want to make sure that happens in my admissions process, do you see a way they could pursue that?

THOMPSON DORSEY: Yes, absolutely. I know that Justice Roberts, in his decision, even mentioned that students may still discuss how race has impacted their life when they're writing their personal essays. They may talk about how they had to overcome certain issues in terms of discrimination or attending a school where they did not have AP - advanced placement - courses or international baccalaureate courses, which gives a boost to a lot of students and - who live in wealthier areas. But they can now, I guess, use other factors that have been used as a proxy for race, such as if students are economically disadvantaged, if they're first-generation college students, considering more of geographic locations where students are coming from around the country or around the world, or even within a particular community within a state.

INSKEEP: OK. I think we are just beginning this discussion. Dana Thompson Dorsey, professor Dorsey, thank you so much.

THOMPSON DORSEY: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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