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The Supreme Court Decision on Affirmative Action

Chancellor Subbaswamy addresses the latest Supreme Court decision on the use of affirmative action in college admissions

In a message to the campus community on June 29, Chancellor Subbaswamy addressed the U.S. Supreme Court's latest decision regarding the use of affirmative action in college admissions.

Dear Campus Community,

Earlier today, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down its decision in Students for Fair Admission v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admission v. University of North Carolina, two cases challenging the use of affirmative action in college admissions. While we have been anticipating and preparing for this outcome for some time, the Court’s decision dismantling affirmative action in college admissions marks a historic and challenging moment for all of higher education, including institutions such as ours that are deeply invested in inclusive education.

I write today to share updates on our work to recruit, admit and graduate a diverse student body and, more importantly, to emphasize that, while the Court may require us to change our methods, it cannot change our mission. 

A commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is a core value of UMass, as underscored by President Meehan and the chancellors of the five UMass campuses in a statement released earlier today. This commitment is reflected in our campus’ mission statement, which reads, in part:

"Our institution is rooted in the idea that any qualified individual, regardless of wealth or social status, should have access to high-quality higher education. We draw from and support diverse experiences and perspectives as an essential strength of this learning community and accept for ourselves and instill in our students an ongoing commitment to create a better, more just world."

We firmly believe that these high ideals cannot be realized unless our student body reflects the society we live in and the Commonwealth we serve. We know our values are shared by Governor Healey and her administration, Attorney General Campbell, and the Massachusetts General Court, and we will work with our partners in government to ensure resources and programming are in place to meet our commitments regardless of today’s decision.

To achieve this end, our admissions process has, for the past decade, employed a holistic approach that considers the entirety of an applicant’s life experiences. Holistic admissions, which does not use race as a determinative factor, has served us well: since 2011, the percentage of students of color in the incoming class has grown from 21% to 37%. We will work closely with the UMass Office of General Counsel to ensure, in light of today’s decision, our admission process continues to reflect our values while operating within the boundaries of the law.

We should, however, prepare for this ruling to have profound ramifications for higher education more broadly. As data from California has shown since the 1996 passage of Proposition 209, there are far-reaching implications to ending affirmative action. Two areas of work — prospective student recruitment and campus climate — have been critical to our past success and become even more important under the new reality borne out of today’s Supreme Court ruling.

Recruiting a Diverse Class

Over the past decade, UMass Amherst has significantly broadened its recruitment efforts to ensure the accessible opportunities of a flagship education are known across every demographic. Since 2012, our admission team has recruited and received applications from underrepresented students from 66 additional high schools in Massachusetts alone. We have also partnered with more community-based organizations to help us recruit and enroll a more diverse class, including lower-income and first-generation students. We will also continue to work with our partners in the state and federal government to develop funding for pipeline programs and advocate for financial aid investments.

Creating a Welcoming Community

Building a diverse class is about more than whom we admit: It requires creating a welcoming and inclusive community. This work is critical, and it is ongoing. Building on the results of our Campus Climate Survey, we will continue to implement data-driven initiatives and procedures to ensure students of all backgrounds experience a strong sense of belonging and inclusion in our community. We want every prospective student, no matter their background, to see their values reflected across the institution and recognize UMass as a place where they will thrive. Every student we extend admission to has options; we want UMass to be their unequivocal choice.

Even absent this ruling, our commitment to upholding our values of diversity, equity and inclusion would drive us to deepen our investments in recruiting and welcoming students from diverse backgrounds. I have spoken with Chancellor-Elect Reyes, and we agree: With the Supreme Court’s ruling today, we are committed to redoubling our efforts in these areas. 

On September 13 and 14, the Office of Equity and Inclusion, along with partners across campus, will host a series of events dedicated to Belonging@UMass. As our university moves into the new legal reality set into motion by the Supreme Court, I invite you to join the UMass community in learning about and strengthening our collective commitment to creating a campus where every student feels a sense of belonging. If you would like to learn more or submit a workshop proposal for this event, please visit this site

As impactful as the Supreme Court’s ruling will be for our community, and all of higher education, let it be an inspiration for us to live our values, and to continue to build a diverse community grounded in dignity and respect.


Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy