Catholic universities say the end of affirmative action threatens their values and religious liberty
Organizations representing Catholic colleges and universities, plus many of the schools themselves, released statements this week expressing disappointment about the Supreme Court’s decision effectively ending affirmative action in higher education.
Calling the 6-to-3 decision handed down Thursday “more than disappointing,” the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities said in a statement that the court “ignores the more-than-apparent effects of continued racism in our society.”
“In doing so,” the statement continues, “it undermines the work that higher education has voluntarily taken on for many decades to be a solution in a society that provides too few solutions for this social evil.”
The Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities said in a statement on Friday that their 28 member schools “will honor our mission, guided by Catholic Social teaching and its vision of the common good, to continue our commitment to expanding the recruitment of Pell-eligible, first generation, and underrepresented students to our institutions.”
The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities said that the court “ignores the more-than-apparent effects of continued racism in our society.”
“Jesuit colleges and universities were founded to support the educational aspirations of immigrants, the poor, and those from diverse backgrounds,” the statement reads. “They have contributed toward the building of a more just and equitable civil society since the earliest days of our nation's founding.”
Last year, more than 50 Catholic colleges and universities signed an amicus brief, spearheaded by Georgetown University, urging the court to uphold policies that allow institutions to take race into account in the admissions process.
The presidents of many of those schools released statements in the wake of the court’s decision, in which they expressed disappointment but said they will continue to value diversity among their student bodies.
“Our Jesuit values call on us to create and sustain a diverse and inclusive community marked by mutual respect, civility, and service to the wider world,” Vincent D. Rougeau, the president of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., wrote in a letter. “Our work continues and our mission remains unchanged.”
Eduardo Peñalver, the president of Seattle University, said in a statement that the court’s rulings may infringe on the religious liberty rights of the Jesuit university.
“Our Jesuit values call on us to create and sustain a diverse and inclusive community marked by mutual respect, civility, and service to the wider world,” Vincent D. Rougeau said.
“Today’s decision leaves unanswered important and unsettled questions about how the Court’s restrictions on the consideration of race in admissions interacts with our constitutional right to the free exercise and expression of our Jesuit, Catholic values,” he wrote. “We are actively exploring the implications of today’s decision for those questions.”
The president of the University of San Francisco, Paul Fitzgerald, S.J., called the ruling “quite disturbing and really quite challenging to us.”
“We’ve spent decades building out an academic program to welcome a student population that looks like the future of our nation. To be told now that we cannot use race as a particular factor is going to cause us to think very hard to figure out a way to continue our mission,” Father Fitzgerald told KQED.
The head of Fordham University said in a letter to the campus community, as “a university president—and a law professor who focused on the constitutional guarantee of equal protection—I am both disappointed and determined to find a path forward.”
Writing that the school had been “preparing for this moment all year,” Fordham President Tania Tetlow said the Jesuit university will “do everything allowed under the law to continue assembling a student body of the best and brightest, with every type of talent and experience.”
Fordham President Tania Tetlow said the Jesuit university will “do everything allowed under the law to continue assembling a student body of the best and brightest, with every type of talent and experience.”
“Fordham’s diversity, by race, class, geography, nationality, and background, is an enormous source of strength,” she wrote. “And it is a fundamental expression of our religious mission.”
The court’s conservative majority effectively overturned cases reaching back 45 years in invalidating admissions plans at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, the nation’s oldest private and public colleges, respectively.
Justice Clarence Thomas—the nation’s second Black justice and one of the six Catholics on the court, who had long called for an end to affirmative action—wrote that the decision “sees the universities’ admissions policies for what they are: rudderless, race-based preferences designed to ensure a particular racial mix in their entering classes.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s first Latina, wrote in dissent that the decision “rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress.”
Reacting to the ruling, President Joe Biden said he “strongly, strongly” disagreed with the ruling and urged colleges and universities to continue seeking diverse communities
“They should not abandon their commitment to ensure student bodies of diverse backgrounds and experience that reflect all of America,” Mr. Biden said. “We need to keep an open door of opportunities. We need to remember that diversity is our strength. We have to find a way forward.”
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the decision “sees the universities’ admissions policies for what they are: rudderless, race-based preferences designed to ensure a particular racial mix in their entering classes.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, meanwhile, tweeted a section of Justice Thomas’s opinion, calling them “powerful and wise words.” The Catholic senator added, “Today’s decision from the Supreme Court is the right one: students should be judged on their merits, not the color of their skin.”
While many Catholic schools condemned the ruling, some Catholic groups appeared to praise the ruling, while others urged Americans to consider the arguments on both sides of the debate.
Robert P. George, the director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, wrote that “Americans by and large agree on the importance of equality, as a constitutional commitment, and diversity, as something desirable in the classroom and workplace.”
But, he continued, “we are divided on the precise meanings of equality and diversity and on certain questions about how properly to achieve equality and diversity.”
Professor George urged Americans to resist using the decision as “another occasion for people to demonize those of their fellow citizens whose opinions do not square with their own.” He urged people to read the text of the ruling, including parts written by the dissenting justices.
“These are serious, thoughtful people, making serious, thoughtful arguments,” he wrote. “What’s more, taken together, the opinions model vigorous—indeed passionate—yet civil and respectful disagreement. Heaven knows that our poor struggling experiment in republican government and ordered liberty needs more of that today.”
Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.