Maine college leaders say they fear for their ability to grow and maintain campus diversity after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that an applicant’s race cannot be considered a factor in admissions.

Bates College President Clayton Spencer and President-elect Garry W. Jenkins said in a joint statement that the decision “undervalues the crucial role that higher education plays in building a healthy and informed democracy and providing individuals of all backgrounds with the opportunity to fulfill their human potential.”

Bowdoin College President Clayton Rose called the development “deeply disappointing” and said it undermines efforts to create a learning environment that prepares students to succeed in a diverse world.

The court ruled that race-based affirmative action admissions programs at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The ruling effectively bars colleges and universities nationwide from considering a student’s race when reviewing their application.

In the months leading up to Thursday’s decision, several Maine colleges voiced opposition to the complaint, citing obstacles that such a ruling could pose to creating diverse, well-rounded classes of students.

These institutions included Bates College in Lewiston, Bowdoin College in Brunswick, and Colby College in Waterville, all of which were signatories on an amicus curae brief filed with the Supreme Court in support of Harvard and UNC’s efforts to maintain race as a factor in admissions. The brief warned of the dangers of race-blind admissions given the documented benefits of diversity in higher education.


“Studies consistently show that diversity – including racial diversity – meaningfully improves learning experiences, complex thinking, and non-cognitive abilities,” the brief reads. “Diversity also generates pedagogical innovations and decreases prejudice. These benefits are especially pronounced at liberal arts colleges and small universities, where smaller class sizes lead to greater engagement among diverse students.”

When the court announced its decision Thursday – a ruling that the brief had warned would be a “powerful blow” against campus diversity and inclusion efforts throughout the country – Maine colleges responded with statements about how their efforts could be jeopardized.

In an email to Bowdoin students and faculty, Rose called the development “deeply disappointing.” He noted that Bowdoin College President-elect Safa Zaki, who will take office July 1, also has concerns about the future of college admissions without affirmative action.

“(Zaki and I) share the view that today’s decision undermines the essential work to create an educational environment and experience that prepares students for the diverse worlds of work and of informed political and social engagement,” Rose wrote. “We also believe the decision undermines the long-term effort to recognize and respond to the structural obstacles for those in our society who have faced the most profound barriers to opportunity.”

Spencer and Jenkins expressed similar fears about the ruling’s implications for student body diversity at Bates. They affirmed that Bates will begin working on ways to ensure that the school’s progress remains intact.



“We will not allow the court’s decision to diminish our commitment to our current students or the students we will continue to seek out,” the statement reads. “We will take this opportunity to do what we do best: think creatively and experiment with new strategies consistent with the law that will allow us to continue to craft a class with diverse identities, life experiences, interests, and perspectives.”

Though the statements do not specify what strategies Bates and its peers might use to grow and maintain student body diversity, Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion leaves the door open for students to use application materials to communicate how they would contribute to a more racially diverse student population.

“Nothing prohibits universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected the applicant’s life, so long as that discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability that the particular applicant can contribute to the university,” the opinion reads.

While the selectivity of schools like Harvard, UNC, and Bates may make them more demographically sensitive to the end of racial affirmative action, other institutions that accept the vast majority of applicants and cater primarily to their geographic regions may feel the change less acutely.

The University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel P. Malloy said he “(doesn’t) think that there will be real change” to the racial makeup of Maine’s public colleges caused by the ruling. Because the system has an overall acceptance rate approaching 100 percent and most applicants are Mainers, he said, student body makeup is less reflective of institutional admissions practices than statewide demographics.

“What we have seen over time and the last 20 years in our system, is it is more reflective of the diversity that exists in the marketplace that we are garnering our students from,” Malloy said.

Unlike schools in the University of Maine System, schools like Colby, Bowdoin, and Bates have historically had more direct control over their student demographics. While their student bodies remain predominantly white, with the schools’ percentage of white students ranging from 55.5% to 62.3% in fall 2022, each has taken steps to steadily grow the number of students of color it enrolls.

For Maine college leaders, losing that progress isn’t an option.

“Whatever the outcome and no matter how challenging the work, we will never back away from our commitment to build and sustain a truly diverse community where everyone has the opportunity for an equitable experience and an enduring sense of belonging,” Rose wrote.

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