Prominent Philanthropists Condemn SCOTUS Affirmative Action Decision

In addition to individual responses from wealthy donors, more than fifty foundations have joined forces to denounce the decision in a joint letter.

After being in place for 60 years, affirmative action at universities and colleges across the nation has been effectively struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Now some of the biggest names across educational giving are condemning the decision and its potential effects on equity across postsecondary schooling.

Students walk by brick building lined with trees.
Campus of the University of North Carolina, one of the schools at the heart of the SCOTUS case. Eros Hoagland/Getty Images

The Supreme Court yesterday (June 29) ruled that universities can no longer consider race as a basis for admissions. The decision centered on two cases brought by conservative nonprofit Students for Fair Admissions against the admission processes at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, which the court said violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In addition to sparking denouncements from President Joe Biden and the American Civil Liberties Union, the decision prompted a lengthy response from billionaire donor Michael Bloomberg: “Are we really going to prohibit schools from taking an applicant’s race or ethnicity into account when forming a freshman class, while permitting them to consider students’ gender and geography—and also legacy status and athletic skills?” he said. “A student’s racial and ethnic background should never be the sole factor in an admissions decision. But to prohibit schools from considering it as one of many factors is wrong.”

To sustain campus diversity, Bloomberg urged for increased emphasis on financial aid and need-blind admissions. In 2018, he gave $1.8 billion to his alma mater John Hopkins University to create a fund dedicated to financial aid. The gift also brought his total donations to the school to more than $4.35 billion, the largest philanthropic investment ever made to a university. The former New York City mayor has made several other educational gifts, including $100 million to four historically Black medical schools in 2020 and another $100 million to Cornell Tech in 2015.

Pushback from Bill Gates, George Soros, Pierre Omidyar

Similar sentiments were echoed by the foundation of billionaires Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates. The Supreme Court decision “will negatively impact many students of color, limiting their access to educational opportunities that create a path to a better living and a better life,” tweeted Mark Suzman, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the largest charitable foundations in the world with an endowment of $67.3 billion. The organization “will continue to work every day to create meaningful impact that narrows equity gaps and increases opportunities,” he said.

Through its Gates Millennium Scholarships, the foundation has funded more than $1.2 billion in scholarships for minority students since 2000. More recently, the organization pledged to spend $1.1 billion on grants for math education in the U.S. from 2022 to 2026, with an emphasis on states which have a larger share of Black and Latino students, like California, Florida, New York and Texas.

Another major player in the world of billion-dollar philanthropy, George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, called the news a “setback” but promised to continue working towards accessible education for all. “These decisions deny students of color a fair shot, and deny this country the benefits of the immense, diverse talents of the full American community,” said Laleh Ispahani, executive director of Open Society’s U.S. branch, in a statement. “In light of today’s rulings, the Open Society Foundations remain firmly committed to advancing a multiracial, multiethnic democracy with human dignity, in every sector of American life, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or country of origin.”

One of the first-ever donations given by businessman George Soros was to help establish a scholarship program for Black students in apartheid South Africa in 1979. His foundation has since poured billions into education, donating $1 billion in 2020 to create a global university network focused on underrepresented and minority populations. Soros also founded Vienna’s Central European University in 1991 and has long been a donor to Bard College, giving the school a $500 million endowment in 2021.

Alongside more than 50 other philanthropists and non-profits, Open Society Foundations also signed a letter regarding the overruling of affirmative action. “The decision erects new barriers to building a society in which everyone has the opportunity to improve their lives, communities, health, and education,” read the statement signed by organizations like the Ford Foundation, McKnight Foundation, Mellon Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Raikes Foundation and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s eponymous foundation. “To forge ahead, we must continue to advocate for the human dignity of all people—regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, religion or country of origin.”

Prominent Philanthropists Condemn SCOTUS Affirmative Action Decision