By Scott Etkin
This week, Columbia University President Minouche Shafik announced a preliminary plan for adjusting the university’s admissions procedures and policies in light of the United States Supreme Court’s decision earlier this summer to end affirmative action in higher education.
The June 29 ruling declared it unconstitutional for schools to have admissions policies, like affirmative action, that favor applicants from groups that are traditionally considered disadvantaged or subject to discrimination, such as people of color and women. The decision coincided with the university’s transition to Shafik from outgoing president, Lee C. Bollinger, who called the ruling “tragic.”
Shafik’s first step focuses on gathering information about the university’s existing admission processes in order to identify opportunities for creating diversity. A working group, led by Interim Provost Dennis Mitchell and comprising the university’s three undergraduate deans and other graduate and professional school deans, began in August to review current admissions procedures across all schools at a high level.
Admissions policies are normally made at the school level, Shafik explained in a letter to the Columbia community. “This University-level focus will allow us to share information and insights and to learn from each other as we adjust to the new landscape,” she wrote. The working group is expected to deliver a set of recommendations by December.
The plan also calls on Columbia to “examine existing pipeline and pathway programs and to think about ways we might alter or expand these programs to reach more potential students. To the greatest extent possible, we want to welcome students from local public high schools, community colleges, and other public institutions into our undergraduate and professional schools,” Shafik wrote.
While the findings and recommendations from these committees won’t be known for some time, an interim change has already taken place. Inside Higher Ed reported that more than two dozen schools, including Columbia, have revised or added supplemental questions concerning diversity to their applications.
Columbia’s new essay prompt asks applicants to write about their own experiences in the context of the school’s diverse community: “A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and thrive in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide range of perspectives. Tell us about an aspect of your own perspective, viewpoint or lived experience that is important to you, and describe how it has shaped the way you would learn from and contribute to Columbia’s diverse and collaborative community.”
It remains to be seen if more substantial changes, like Virginia Tech’s elimination of its early-decision option and legacy-admissions preferences, might also reach Columbia.
“It will take time for us to develop and refine this new approach,” wrote Shafik. “But I promise a sustained commitment, including securing the resources necessary for meaningful impact, to ensure Columbia remains a beacon for generations of future students.”
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