North Carolina in spotlight over race-related admissions emails

Admissions officers wrote of favouring ‘brown babies’, campaign group reveals

February 21, 2019
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The group suing Harvard University over race-related admissions is pursuing another case where University of North Carolina admissions officers wrote of favouring “brown babies” and making other racially tinged assessments.

Email exchanges between the admissions staff members at North Carolina’s flagship campus in Chapel Hill include such remarks as “Give these brown babies a shot at these merit $$” and “If its [sic] brown and above a 1300 put them in for merit/Excel”, referring to financial aid at the institution.

The remarks, reported by Politico, are part of the evidence filed in federal court in North Carolina for the lawsuit brought by the group calling itself Students for Fair Admissions.

The group, also known as SFFA, is leading a high-profile case aimed at ending racial preferences in the admissions process at Harvard by arguing that such policies harm Asian-American applicants.

SFFA has been seeking the same outcome at other US colleges including North Carolina, which it accuses of disadvantaging non-minority applicants with far stronger academic qualifications than minority applicants.

Many US colleges acknowledge granting such preferences, in accordance with US Supreme Court rulings that SFFA hopes to overturn, for reasons that include the greater benefit to their overall student body of a diverse learning environment.

The email exchanges obtained by SFFA in the five-year-old North Carolina case – which could join the Harvard case in concluding before the Supreme Court – make clear the mechanisms of granting those preferences in sometimes stark language.

Examples cited by Politico include a March 2014 email in which a North Carolina admissions officer described his plans to help a student claim in-state status despite the applicant’s failure to ask for it. “I’m going through this trouble because this is a bi-racial (black/white) male,” the officer wrote in the email. “I would definitely admit for NC.”

In another exchange, an officer disappointed to learn that an applicant with a perfect SAT score and top high-school grades was “Asian” rather than “brown”, added: “Still impressive.”

Stephen Farmer, the vice-provost for enrolment and undergraduate admissions at Chapel Hill, issued a statement saying that the language in some of the email exchanges “does not reflect Carolina’s values or our admissions process”.

A university spokeswoman said that she could not comment on the possibility of any punitive action against those involved in the email exchanges because of state laws requiring the confidentiality of personnel matters.

Chapel Hill lost its chancellor, Carol Folt, last month, in another racially charged controversy, after she ordered the removal from campus of the remains of a statue honouring the Confederate soldiers of the US Civil War.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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