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Study details better outcomes for Omicron BA.2 patients

In a study that represents the largest to date to examine the severity of Omicron BA.2 — the COVID subvariant making a re-emergence this fall — a team led by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital has determined that the strain is weaker than both Delta and the original Omicron variant.

This pattern revealed in the JAMA Network Open study suggests that COVID severity may be diminishing.

To provide an accurate assessment of the severity of variants above and beyond previous studies, the researchers used a method called entropy balancing to account for potential confounding factors such as prior infections, vaccinations, treatments, and comorbidities. The team applied this method to data leveraged from the Mass. General Brigham’s electronic health record system that’s linked to a COVID-19 vaccine registry.

Of 102,315 confirmed COVID-19 cases from March 3, 2020, to June 20, 2022, there were 20,770 labeled as Delta variants, 52,605 labeled as Omicron B.1.1.529 variants (the original Omicron variant), and 28,940 labeled as Omicron BA.2 subvariants.

Mortality rates were 0.7 percent for Delta, 0.4 percent for the original Omicron variant, and 0.3 percent for Omicron BA.2. After adjustments, the odds of death were more than two times higher for the Delta and the original Omicron variant compared with Omicron BA.2. Patients with Delta and the original Omicron variants were also likelier to need hospitalizations, invasive ventilation, and intensive care admissions.

“While the SARS-CoV-2 virus always has the potential to mutate to a more deadly form, when you look at the recent trajectory of Delta, Omicron BA.1, to Omicron BA.2, the virus seems to be getting intrinsically less severe. Hopefully this trend will continue,” says lead author Zachary Strasser, an academic physician in the Laboratory of Computer Science at MGH and an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “We can continue to use our analytics system and method to assess many other questions, such as which vaccinations have the most impact on preventing long COVID, or whether certain treatments reduce the likelihood of long COVID.”

Co-authors include Noah Greifer, Aboozar Hadavand, Shawn N. Murphy, and Hossein Estiri.

This work was supported in part by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and the National Human Genome Research Institute.

 

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David Hempton to step down as Divinity School dean

David N. Hempton announced Thursday that he will step down as dean of the Divinity School at the end of the 2022–23 academic year. Hempton will remain on the faculty of the School, where he will resume his career as a dedicated teacher and writer.

“As I look back, there have been countless highlights — from our bicentennial celebrations in 2017 to the opening of Swartz Hall in 2021 — but perhaps the most satisfying part of our work together has been the thousands of challenging classes and hundreds of graduating students who have gone out to illuminate, engage, and serve our world in multiple capacities,” Hempton said in a message to the HDS community. “Nothing brings greater pleasure than knowing that we have all used our gifts and talents to help one another make a difference in the world.”

In a message to the HDS community, Harvard President Larry Bacow described Hempton as “inviting and open, authentic and dignified, dynamic and engaging.” He went on to note the impact of those qualities on Harvard and HDS through Hempton’s leadership. “Throughout a decade of leadership, David has realized those same qualities more fully across the Divinity School — in the faculty and students you attract, in the research and scholarship you pursue, and in the initiatives and programs you launch. With inspiring conviction, he has expanded and elevated ambitions and perspectives, ever faithful to the ideal of a just world, a world at peace.”

Bacow said he and Provost Alan M. Garber will share information in the coming weeks regarding the search process for Hempton’s successor.

Hempton grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and was the first in his family to attend university. As a result of living through the “troubles,” he developed a strong interest in religion and political culture, which became the subject of his doctoral study at the University of St. Andrews. He came to the U.S. in 1998 as a Distinguished University Professor at Boston University before moving to Harvard in 2007. He soon built a reputation as a dedicated teacher and popular lecturer with a trademark sense of humor and care for his students. He won prestigious teaching awards at both Boston University and Harvard.

Appointed dean of HDS in 2012 by President Drew Faust, Hempton has been a champion of multireligious education, religious literacy, and global networks. His leadership has led to significant transformations at the School — from the strengthening and diversification of the faculty and student body to the physical space of the campus. These achievements have put HDS on a path to prepare and train religiously literate, ethical scholars and leaders for generations.

Hempton encouraged a pluralistic approach to teaching and learning, a value reflected in his impact on the faculty and student body. One-third of the current faculty of divinity were appointed over the course of Hempton’s tenure as dean. These leading scholars build on the School’s expertise in areas such as African and African American religious studies, early Christianity and its connection to Judaism, and Islamic studies. He has steadfastly supported the School’s highly successful Women’s Studies in Religion Program and its Center for the Study of World Religions.

“Throughout his deanship, he could be counted on to approach every challenge, large and small, with compassion and integrity.”
— Alan M. Garber, provost

Also within the last decade, HDS expanded its global reach by strengthening its international networks. Hindu monastics, Buddhist monks, and other visiting scholars from across the globe have joined the HDS community in recent years. This effort can also be seen in the School’s most recent class, of which a quarter joined the HDS community from abroad.

In fall 2020, HDS launched Religion and Public Life, a new center of excellence that leverages the School’s traditional leadership in ministry education and the academic study of religion to prepare religiously literate, ethical leaders working in all fields for a just world at peace. The program includes the Religion, Conflict, and Peace Initiative, which breaks new ground in conflict transformation using a robust understanding of the power of religion in human experience and contemporary global affairs. With the RPL program came a new degree, the master’s of religion and public life (MRPL), HDS’s first new degree in more than 50 years, and the certificate in religion and public life.

Over the last several years, Hempton actively worked toward building a restorative anti-racist and anti-oppressive Harvard Divinity School. In fall 2020, the School established the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging and named Melissa Wood Bartholomew, M.Div. ’15, to serve as the associate dean for diversity, inclusion, and belonging.

Under Hempton’s deanship, the School has built strong connections with partners across the faculties and graduate Schools as part of the University’s “One Harvard” efforts. Hempton also saw the establishment of “Making Change,” an intensive, five-day professional and lifelong learning program of personal and spiritual development on the HDS campus.

“David is an extraordinarily eloquent, brilliant, and kind leader who has been tireless in his devotion to the Divinity School,” said Garber. “Throughout his deanship, he could be counted on to approach every challenge, large and small, with compassion and integrity. His fellow deans and I have long been grateful for his counsel, which is always incisive and wise, delivered with humor and warmth. We wish him every success in his next chapter.”

Hempton steered the School through its bicentennial celebration, a capital campaign, and record fundraising that led to the transformation of the School’s campus. Swartz Hall opened in 2021 as a true campus center after the building underwent its first major renewal since its construction a century ago. The renewal included the renaming of the building’s storied chapel as the Preston N. Williams Chapel in honor of the first tenured African American member of the HDS faculty and the first to lead the School as acting dean from 1974 to ’75.

Through his steady leadership during the pandemic, Hempton enabled HDS to continue its teaching and learning mission while expanding the School’s reach in the world. The move to remote learning enabled faculty to host global scholars in their virtual “classrooms,” and HDS experienced exponential growth in attendance at online educational, alumni, and cultural events. The technology advances made available through the Swartz Hall renewal have allowed the School to reach deeper into these new ways of teaching and learning.

The Alonzo L. McDonald Family Professor of Evangelical Theological Studies and John Lord O’Brian Professor of Divinity, Hempton focuses in his research and teaching on religion and political culture, religious identities and ethnic conflicts, the interdisciplinary study of lived religion, the global history of Christianity since 1500, and religious disenchantment and comparative secularization in Europe and North America. He has published many prize-winning books and articles.

Hempton is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy, and former professor of modern history and director of the School of History in the Queen’s University of Belfast. In October 2021, Hempton delivered the Gifford Lectures, one of the most prestigious honors in the academic study of religion, in a series titled, “Networks, Nodes, and Nuclei in the History of Christianity, c. 1500-2020.” He looks forward to turning these lectures into a book and to becoming an even more star-struck grandparent.

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How Black thinkers wrestled with founding U.S. values amid slavery

The nation’s founders embraced republicanism, a political ideology rooted in classical Rome, with its emphasis on liberty, individual rights, civic virtue, and equality. Historians have noted that those ideas still inform much of what most American believe are the nation’s core values and have been at the heart of various national debates, including those involving equity and race.

But that history often overlooks the contributions to American republicanism of Black thinkers in the early 19th century. Some of their ideas, said Brown University professor Melvin Rogers, ran into a roadblock when it came to the idea of racial domination.

“The moment we begin to expand on narratives of the past, the moment we look beyond those figures that typically enjoy philosophical standard, we will find the tradition of republicanism not only alive in the 19th century, but that it is under the conceptual reconfiguration by African Americans,” Rogers said last week during an event, “Race and Domination: An Introduction to Black Republicanism.”

Rogers, who also serves as associate director of the Center for Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Brown, has dedicated his work to contemporary democratic theory and the history of American and African American political thought. During an hourlong talk, Rogers expanded on his research on African American thinkers, their contributions to the theory of republicanism from the 1830s to the 1850s, as well as their commitment to freedom against domination.

“African Americans were very much committed to this tradition of thinking, but they also came to discover very quickly that it wasn’t conceptually ready for the situation that they found themselves in, that of racial domination,” Rogers explained. African American thinkers in the early 19th century, including Martin Delany, David Walker, Maria Stewart, and Frederick Douglass, viewed civic virtue as an important concept and transformed it into an idea of solidarity among Black people to fortify themselves and push back.

While the scholars agreed on racial solidarity, they did not agree on what it would look like. Delaney, for example, saw racial solidarity as a permanent state, Rogers said, and later endorsed the immigration of Black Americans back to Africa.

“For these figures, freedom and equality matter a great deal,” Rogers said. He explained that these writers, abolitionists, and activists proposed that the true meaning of equality of freedom exceeds institutional embodiment and requires individuals to pay particular attention to the symbols and ideas that deemed Black Americans of low worth in relation to their white counterparts.

“That then means that when we attack racial inequality, when we attack white supremacy, we must do it institutionally to be sure, constitutionally to be sure, but we must not lose track of the constitutional sphere upon which our institutions and our Constitution rests,” he said.

Diving into the political thoughts of early 19th-century Black intellectuals is vital not only to get the history right, but also because these contributions to republicanism give insight into the nature of white supremacy that continues to trouble current ethical and political life, Rogers said. The individuals and ideas he focuses on “are essentially the 19th-century version of Black Lives Matter” movement. Both ask vital questions of the culture and share the belief that the success of the U.S. is fundamentally connected to the status of African Americans and that success depends on the extent to which politics can show equal regard for Black and white Americans.

“I think that they both are on the same page. That’s not to say that the context is the same. The context has changed in dramatic ways,” he said. “But there is this persistent legacy that we find ourselves grappling with again and again.”

Danielle Allen, the James Bryant Conant University Professor and director of the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Ethics, who introduced Rogers, said, “Melvin has written so intelligently and beautifully about John Dewey and the history of African American thought.”

Rogers is currently working as co-editor of Oxford University Press’ New Histories of Philosophy series. He will work on Africana Philosophy, a project that looks at different figures in African American political thought. “This is a watershed moment for philosophy, for political theory, for African American studies across the board, to put a stake in the ground and say, ‘There is a canon here,’” Allen said.

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Harvard students head for Supreme Court rally

More than 100 Harvard students are heading to Washington, D.C., to attend a Monday rally in support of campus diversity on the steps of the Supreme Court as justices hear oral arguments in lawsuits challenging admissions policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina that use race as one factor among many in evaluating applicants.

The suits were brought by Edward Blum, a conservative critic of affirmative action, and his organization, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA). The court’s decision could overturn decades-long Supreme Court precedents allowing admissions practices like those at Harvard and affect affirmative action at institutions of higher education across the nation.

“If this case falls through, it could lead to a completely different Harvard experience,” said Muskaan Arshad ’25, one of the campus organizers. “It’ll never be the same again, and that’s really scary to me.”

Since last year, Arshad has been networking and convening meetings, including a teach-in last month that drew 300 students. Harvard activists who are attending the Washington event say students from more than 20 different schools are expected to attend, along with civil rights activists, lawyers, and others.

“What scares me the most is the projected drop-off in the number of Black and Latinx students on campus,” said Kylan Tatum ’25, co-founder and co-leader of the Affirmative Action Coalition on campus. “I think it would be a great disservice to all institutions of higher education to sacrifice diversity in this way. If the point of higher education is to prepare students to succeed, we must make sure that the environment in which we’re learning is reflective of the society in which we’ll operate. Not acknowledging that the world we’re going into is one that is geographically diverse, socio-economically diverse, racially diverse, and diverse in so many ways is a great disservice to ourselves.”

“If the point of higher education is to prepare students to succeed, we must make sure that the environment in which we’re learning is reflective of the society in which we’ll operate.”
— Kylan Tatum ’25

An intercollegiate statement written by students at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale rejected SFFA’s claims and affirmed the belief that race-conscious admissions policies support racial equity in education. The statement, which was signed by more than 100 students and activists, called on community members at all higher education institutions to pressure administrations to publicly support affirmative action. “Allies must take an active stance against all levels of inequalities in our society through active participation and education,” the signatories wrote.

Chelsea Wang ’25 said the “model minority” myth, which claims Asian Americans faced discrimination and still achieved success through hard work so it should be possible for anyone, has been used in the past to deny the systemic racism faced by people of color. “They’re pitting us against other people of color,” she said. “Most Asian Americans support affirmative action, and I don’t want to let my own community be used as pawns.”

Wang and Tatum serve the Asian American Association as co-chairs for the educational and political committee. Like Wang, Tatum said they were concerned by the lawsuit and how it appears to sow divisions between students of color, particularly between Black and Asian American students. The 19-year-old, who is both Black and Asian, said they know first-hand what it’s like to navigate those divisions.

“It’s very clear that this is an intentional project meant to divide people. It’s an appeal to the model minority myth, or the weaponization of Asian American socio-economic and educational success against other ‘problem minorities,’” Tatum said.

Leading up to the SCOTUS hearing, more than 25 student organizations, including the Black Student Association and the Asian American Association, co-hosted a September teach-in featuring lawyers from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund who laid out the background and details of the case.

First-year student Soleei Guasp, who attended the gathering, said it inspired her to join student efforts. The 19-year-old plans to attend the Washington rally with Latinas Unidas, one of the student groups that is part of the Affirmative Action Coalition.

Student activists also planned a week of action that began on Monday and ends with a rally and march today in Cambridge.

Students want to raise awareness about how much is at stake, and hope events like this help elevate stories like theirs. “I don’t know how much we can do to impact the case directly. [We’ve] done as much as we can do … but I think the biggest thing we can do is make our voices heard,” Arshad said.

For Wang, the fight for affirmative action goes beyond the classroom. “I am Chinese American,” she said. “I’m very proud of that heritage, and one of my favorite things about my culture is how collectivist we are. We believe in helping each other, helping our community, and putting others before ourselves, especially when it doesn’t benefit us. If I don’t support affirmative action, if I didn’t fight for what I believe is right … then I would be giving up that culture.”

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A global beacon on climate change

Jean Salata is a climate optimist, enough to often elicit a gentle eyeroll from his wife, Melanie.

“I am very optimistic — and as I was joking last night — my wife would say that I’m delusional,” Salata said Wednesday.

Despite that optimism, Salata, CEO of one of Asia’s largest private equity firms, Baring Private Equity Asia, isn’t kidding himself about the complexities of the climate crisis. He knows it is a multifaceted, global issue that will affect the world his children and grandchildren inherit. But he decided that his best shot for making a real difference was to find a place with robust resources, deep talent, and the right leaders, and then just step back. And, he said, that is what he did.

“I’m optimistic that we can make a difference,” Salata said at the kickoff event of the new institute that bears his and Melanie’s name. “It’s not going to be easy. We’re not going to do it alone. We can galvanize all the resources that the University has to be a beacon to the rest of the world, almost like a call to action of why this is important and how we together are going to solve this problem.

Several speakers at Wednesday’s event, “The Future is Now: Harvard Takes on the Climate Challenge,” cited Harvard’s broad interdisciplinary breadth and leadership in higher education as reasons why it is imperative the University engage fully on the problem. They said the new Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability will fill an important role in the array of research, teaching, and other activities related to climate change taking place on Harvard’s campuses. Indeed, a recent report commissioned by James Stock, Vice Provost for Climate and Sustainability, concluded that despite the abundance of climate change-related courses, events, research opportunities, internships, and other types of engagement already offered at the University there remains a huge desire for more.

The Salata Institute, which Stock will head, seeks to play a unifying, catalyzing role that ultimately brings a University-wide focus to a massive, complex, and existential dilemma that has at times driven researchers, scholars, and students nearly to the point of throwing up their hands in resignation.

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What to know about Harvard’s case in the Supreme Court

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case to decide whether race-conscious admissions policies at Harvard College and the University of North Carolina can continue. The court has for more than four decades upheld policies like those at Harvard, which consider race as one factor among many in admissions, and recognized that schools have a compelling interest in achieving the benefits associated with a diverse student body. This is a closely watched case that could affect colleges and universities nationwide. Here are some commonly asked questions and answers.

What is the case about?

The lawsuit was brought by Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. (SFFA), an Arlington, Virginia, nonprofit founded by Edward Blum, who has mounted several legal challenges to race-conscious admissions policies and voting rights laws in recent decades. In 2008, Blum was part of a lawsuit against the University of Texas at Austin over its use of race in admissions. The Supreme Court upheld UT’s admissions policies in 2016, the last time the Court ruled on the issue. SFFA claims that Harvard College deliberately discriminated against Asian American applicants because of their race and considers race in ways that violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

How did we get here?

On Oct. 1, 2019, after a three-week trial, the U.S. District Court in Boston ruled that Harvard does not discriminate and that its consideration of race complied with longstanding Supreme Court precedent. SFFA appealed the decision. On Nov. 12, 2020, the First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the District Court decision, rejecting SFFA’s arguments and affirming judgment for Harvard on all counts. SFFA again appealed the decision, this time to the U.S. Supreme Court. In January, the Court said it would consider the case, along with another case SFFA filed against the University of North Carolina, during its 2022-2023 term. 

What’s at stake?

Harvard and the University of North Carolina are the named defendants, but should SFFA prevail, the Court’s decision would affect all colleges and universities nationwide that consider race as one factor among many in their admissions process. SFFA has asked the Court to reverse long-established precedent and prohibit any consideration of race in admissions.

In past cases, both the Supreme Court and lower courts have consistently ruled that colleges and universities may retain the ability to consider race as one of many factors for admission to create the diverse communities critical to their educational missions. Higher education leaders argue that such communities are necessary to prepare students to live and work in a world that is becoming increasingly pluralistic and global.

How does Harvard consider race during admission?

Admissions at Harvard are highly competitive. This year, 61,000 applicants vied for fewer than 2,000 spots in the Class of 2026. The process involves a comprehensive, whole-person review of each applicant requiring months to complete. Admissions officers examine and consider a range of information, including academic achievements and extracurricular activities. Personal essays, recommendations from teachers and guidance counselors, and applicant interviews are also considered by a diverse, 40-person committee. Race is one factor in determining what makes an applicant unique and what they might bring to the Harvard community. Testimony at trial established that race only ever functions as a plus factor and is never used to deny qualified applicants’ admission.

How wide is the support for Harvard?

Current and former Harvard students, represented by the Asian American Justice Center, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund testified during the trial in support of Harvard and the importance of a diverse student body. Not a single student testified on behalf of SFFA.

In the First Circuit, 25 Harvard student and alumni organizations representing thousands of Asian American, Black, Latinx, Native American, and white Harvard community members filed an amicus brief in support of the University. Nearly 700 social scientists, leading economists, higher-education experts, attorneys general from 15 states, and 37 colleges and universities also wrote in support. Other backers include the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, American Council on Education, Anti-Defamation League, and several multinational corporations, including Apple, General Electric, Intel, Microsoft, and Verizon.

A broad coalition of major corporations, higher education organizations, and legal, religious, military, and civil rights groups voiced their strong support for Harvard in briefs submitted with the Supreme Court this summer.

How has the Supreme Court viewed Harvard’s process in the past?

Twice, the Court has cited Harvard as a model for other colleges and universities. The College’s qualified, limited use of race is entirely consistent with Supreme Court precedent in the issue, established in Bakke (1978), affirmed in Grutter (2003), and reaffirmed in Fisher I (2013) and Fisher II (2016).

 What might future Harvard classes look like in a race-blind system?

The proportion of the class that identifies as African American and Hispanic would decline significantly if Harvard eliminated race as a factor in admissions, evidence presented at trial showed. Additionally, when experts simulated the racial makeup of the class, replacing the consideration of race with “race-neutral alternatives,” they found that Harvard would not be able to reach the same levels of diversity it achieved through the limited consideration of race as one factor among many.

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The history, power, and potential of campus diversity

Education, with its power to transform lives, has long been a focal point in America’s struggle to address racial discrimination and cultivate a pluralistic democracy.

The Supreme Court has for more than four decades upheld policies like those used at Harvard, which consider race as one factor among many in admissions, and has recognized that schools have a compelling interest in achieving the benefits associated with a diverse student body. These benefits endure long after graduation: Students depart campus with the ability to mediate across differences and work and live with people of all backgrounds.

But the journey is not over. This timeline shows how far we’ve come in breaking down racial barriers across American society, and how far we still have to go — critical context for understanding what’s at stake as Harvard defends diversity at the Supreme Court.

1868

The 14th Amendment provides “all citizens with equal protection under the laws,” barring states from enacting and enforcing laws that subordinate certain people based on race.

1896

Plessy v. Ferguson upholds a state law allowing for “separate but equal” accommodations, allowing systemic racial segregation.

 

Linda Brown Smith, 1952.

AP

1954

The Supreme Court rules unanimously in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka that segregating public schools solely on the basis of race is unconstitutional, overturning Plessy v. Ferguson. The decision asserts that state-sponsored racial segregation in public education violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

1962

James Meredith’s enrollment at the University of Mississippi is met with white mob violence, prompting President John Kennedy to send federal troops.

1964

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race in employment, public accommodations, and programs that receive federal funds, including schools.

1978

Supreme Court rules in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke that considering race as one factor among many in admissions does not violate the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., author of the plurality opinion in Bakke, cites Harvard’s admissions practices as a model.

1987

Clifton Wharton Jr., ’47, as head of TIAA-CREF, becomes first Black CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

Los Angeles police confront UCLA students protesting ballot Proposition 209.

AP

1996

California voters approve Proposition 209, which requires the state’s public colleges and universities to stop considering race during admissions. In June 2020, the UC Board of Regents votes unanimously to repeal the ban, noting the number of Hispanic and Black students enrolled in the system has “not kept pace” with the diversity of California’s K-12 schools or general population.

2001

Ruth Simmons, Ph.D. ’73, named 18th president of Brown University. She is the first Black president of an Ivy League institution.

2003

Supreme Court reaffirms in Grutter v. Bollinger that universities and colleges may consider race as one factor among many to achieve the benefits of student body diversity. The Court holds that the University of Michigan Law School’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.

2005

To expand College access, students whose family income is $40,000 or less per year no longer pay tuition under the new Harvard Financial Aid Initiative. Those with family incomes between $40,000 and $60,000 per year contribute a modest, fixed amount. Starting in 2022, students with family incomes of $75,000 or less have no cost for tuition, room, board, or fees under the initiative.

2014

Anti-affirmative action activist Edward Blum forms Students for Fair Admissions Inc., which files a lawsuit in federal court alleging Harvard’s admission policies and practices do not comply with Grutter and that they discriminate against Asian Americans. SFFA also sues the University of North Carolina (2014), alleging it also discriminates by taking race into account as one factor among many in its admission practices.

Abigail Fisher and Edward Blum outside the Supreme Court.

AP

2016

Supreme Court reaffirms in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin that universities have a compelling interest in the educational benefits that come from a diverse student body, and upholds UT’s race-conscious admissions policy.

2017

Black students make up only 9 percent of first-years at Ivy League schools, but 15 percent of college-age Americans, roughly the same gap as in 1980.

2019

Following a three-week trial, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts rejects each of SFFA’s claims in its lawsuit against Harvard. The court determines that, consistent with Supreme Court precedent, Harvard uses race only as one factor among many, does not engage in racial balancing or maintain racial quotas, and does not discriminate against Asian Americans. The court also rules that Harvard does not have a workable race-neutral alternative. SFFA appeals the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

2020

The U.S. Court of Appeals upholds the decision of the district court in Harvard’s favor.

A survey of 1,160 public and private institutions, including Harvard, by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources finds that more than 80 percent of top administrators are white. In fall 2020, whites make up 74 percent of full-time faculty at colleges and universities, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Asian/Pacific Islanders and Blacks are just 7 percent each; Hispanics make up 6 percent. Less than 1 percent are Native American/Alaska Native people or those who identify with two or more races.

The share of Black officers in the U.S. military is 9 percent, up from 1.6 percent at the start of the Vietnam War, but still a significant drop-off in representation compared with overall enlistments.

2021

Six CEOS on the Fortune 500 list are Black, 1 percent of the total.

2021-2022

SFFA files a cert petition, asking the Supreme Court to outlaw the use of race in admissions.

Of 100 U.S. senators, three are African American, seven are Hispanic Americans, and two are Asian American or Pacific Islander American. The rest are white. Forty-seven of the nation’s 50 governors are white.

2022

An analysis led by an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School reveals that diversity in U.S. academic medicine has not kept pace with the nation’s broader population changes. In particular, as of 2020, Black men make up just 3 percent of physicians in the country.

The Supreme Court agrees to hear SFFA’s petition in the cases against Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Oral arguments are scheduled for Oct. 31.

 

 

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Lessons from Michigan, California in admissions case

How might America’s colleges and universities be changed by a Supreme Court ruling that ends race-conscious admissions? Data from the state university systems in California and Michigan paint a troubling picture.

Both were forced to stop considering race after voters called for statewide bans. That led to a precipitous decline in campus diversity, senior officials at the schools said in briefs filed with the court in support of Harvard and the University of North Carolina.

These briefs contradict statements Students for Fair Admissions made Monday in its argument against Harvard before the Supreme Court, in which the group’s lawyers claimed that the experiences of Michigan and California show how a university can achieve effective race-neutral alternatives. In fact, both schools have found these alternatives lacking, officials said.

Likening the university to an “experiment in race-neutral admissions,” Michigan officials said that the school’s struggle to maintain diversity underscores how a limited consideration of race is necessary for colleges and universities to achieve the educational benefits that arise from a diverse student body.

Even with what officials described as “extraordinary” recruiting efforts, enrollment among Black and Native American students at Michigan has fallen by 44 percent and 90 percent, respectively, since 2006, when consideration of race was banned. These declines come despite admissions officers’ consideration of a candidate’s socioeconomic background and whether they would be the first in their family to attend college.

Michigan has been a prominent voice in the case law concerning the constitutionality of race-conscious admissions, including in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003). In that case, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that obtaining the educational benefits of a diverse student body is a “compelling state interest” that can justify using race as one factor among many in a holistic consideration of each applicant. This principle “remains just as true today,” Michigan officials say.

Like Michigan, the University of California implemented a wide variety of race-neutral approaches to continue attracting or even increasing student diversity across its 10 campuses after voters adopted Proposition 209 in 1996, which banned consideration of race in college admissions.

While UC has had some success expanding economic and geographic diversity among its more than 290,000 students, it has struggled to enroll a student body that is “sufficiently racially diverse to attain the educational benefits of diversity,” university officials said in their brief.

First-year enrollment of students from underrepresented groups has fallen “precipitously” systemwide and has declined by 50 percent or more at UC’s most selective campuses, where African American, Native American, and Latino students are already underrepresented and widely report struggling with feelings of racial isolation, UC officials wrote.

In the aftermath of the ban, falloff was particularly dramatic at UCLA and UC Berkeley. In 1995, African Americans made up 7.13 percent of first-year students at UCLA but only 3.43 percent in 1998, the year California’s ban took effect. At Berkeley, 6.32 percent of students were African American in 1995 but just 3.37 percent in 1998. Latino students made up 15.57 percent of Berkeley first-years in 1995 and only 7.28 percent in 1998, despite African American and Latino students representing 7.5 percent and 31 percent, respectively, of the state’s public high school graduates in 1998.

Even as California has grown more diverse, these racial disparities persist. In 2019, 52.3 percent of California public high school graduates identified as Latino, while 24.4 percent identified as white, 13.6 percent as Asian, 5.5 percent as African American, and 0.5 percent as Native American. Yet only 25.4 percent of first-year undergraduates across UC’s nine college campuses identified as Latino, 3.87 percent as African American, and 0.42 percent as Native American, according to UC’s brief.

California’s difficulties since the late 1990s to achieve racial diversity demonstrate “that highly competitive universities may not be able to achieve the benefits of student-body diversity through race-neutral measures alone,” officials said, and so “must retain” the ability to consider race in a limited fashion, as the Supreme Court has permitted.

“In a nation where race matters, universities must maintain campus environments that enable them to teach their students to see each other as more than mere stereotypes,” UC wrote. “Succeeding at that endeavor is crucial to preparing the next generation to be effective citizens and leaders in an increasingly diverse nation.”

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‘Defend Diversity’

WASHINGTON — Scores of students from Harvard and elsewhere, dressed in light blue “Defend Diversity” T-shirts and bandanas, held signs saying, “Not Your Wedge,” “Affirmative Action Is Not Checking a Box,” and “We Will Not Be Used” as they cheered speakers from civil rights and affirmative action advocacy groups on the steps of the Supreme Court on Monday.

Inside, justices heard five hours of arguments in two lawsuits that could decide the future of diversity on college campuses across the country. The cases were brought by Edward Blum, a critic of affirmative action, and his group, Students for Fair Admissions. They allege that race-conscious admissions policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina are unconstitutional, and they seek to upend more than four decades of Supreme Court precedent allowing institutions of higher education to consider race as one factor among many in evaluating applicants.

Angie Shin ’23 said the rallygoers are looking beyond what happens in court. “We are building a coalition and a movement among college and university students across the country, making sure that we have a power base in place so that campuses and the country will be mobilized to fight for race-conscious admissions and for support for students of color.” Demonstrations in support of the Harvard and UNC cases took place both Sunday and Monday, with Monday’s event organized by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Harvard President Larry Bacow wrote to the wider community Monday about his personal views on the subject. “Whatever promise we hold as individuals — for ourselves and for our world — is not predicated on narrowly structured measures of academic distinction,” he said. “When Harvard assembles a class of undergraduates, it matters that they come from different social, economic, geographical, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. It matters that they come to our campus with varied academic interests and skill sets. Research and lived experience teach us that each student’s learning experience is enriched by encountering classmates who grew up in different circumstances.”

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Harvard defends admissions policy before Supreme Court

WASHINGTON — Harvard vigorously defended admissions that consider race as one factor among many in arguments before the Supreme Court on Monday.

The hearing came eight years after Students for Fair Admissions Inc., founded by conservative activist Edward Blum, first sued Harvard seeking to end its race-conscious admissions policy, which is supported by more than 40 years of legal precedent, by charging that Harvard College discriminated against Asian Americans and failed to comply with precedent regarding the consideration of race. Two lower courts ruled for Harvard on all counts, rejecting SFFA’s arguments, before the Supreme Court accepted the case. The justices, who earlier Monday heard arguments in a similar case SFFA filed against the University of North Carolina, are expected to issue their ruling before the end of June.

Arguing for Harvard, lead attorney Seth Waxman pushed back on “false” SFFA assertions that Harvard considers race “a minus” when it comes to Asian American applicants. Waxman cited the federal district court judge’s finding, reaffirmed by the court of appeals, that there was “no evidence” that Harvard discriminated. On the question of “race-neutral” alternatives, Waxman said that the College continues to evaluate such measures. There has been some success, he noted — citing examples like Harvard’s generous financial aid program — but nothing sufficient to take the place of race-conscious admissions.

“Are we there yet? No,” he said.

SFFA attorney Cameron T. Norris faced tough questions from Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan after arguing that while racial diversity was “not a bad thing,” it was “not a compelling interest” that would justify Harvard’s consideration of race. Kagan asked Norris what happens to schools like Harvard if they can’t achieve diversity because race has been taken away as one of their tools.

“The premise of your argument is that even if race-neutral criteria could not achieve [diversity], Harvard can’t use race-conscious criteria. And that must be because you think it’s just not important enough — isn’t that right?” Kagan said.

Other justices challenged Harvard’s position at different moments in the hearing. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett questioned the necessity for race-conscious admissions nearly 20 years after the Grutter decision. Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas seemed skeptical that diversity provides quantifiable educational benefits that might justify the consideration of race during the admissions process.

Arguing on behalf of the U.S. government, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar strongly rebuked SFFA’s claim that its case against Harvard was analogous to Brown v. Board of Education, calling that view “wrong in just about every respect.”