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Taylor Johnston and Ellen Wagner make important decisions about the Post in the editors' office on the evening of Wednesday, February 5, 2020.

Editorial: OU lacks backbone in Yost’s interpretation of SCOTUS decision

On June 29, 2023, the Supreme Court of the United States, or SCOTUS, decided the Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard case and ruled that it is unconstitutional to consider race in the college admissions process as it violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

This prompted Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost to send a letter to Ohio’s public colleges and universities stating that faculty members would be held individually liable in any lawsuits alleging violations of this SCOTUS decision’s ban on affirmative action. In his letter, Yost wrote, “Employees of institutions of higher education will face personal risk should they consider race during the admissions process.” 

In a Scripps College Dean’s Directors meeting held Feb. 8, Scripps College of Communications Dean Scott Titsworth allegedly shared that he had been directed not to award 2024-2025 diversity scholarships from outside donors based on Yost’s interpretation of the decision. Beyond the implications of what reducing diversity in an already very predominantly white university would do, Yost’s decision — and the university’s compliance — is leaving professors in the dark. 

As pointed out in a letter published to Reddit by co-chair of the school’s scholarship committee, School of Journalism Director and professor Eddith Dashiell, there was only one mention of scholarships in the entirety of the decision. Essentially, Yost is attempting to apply this decision to scholarships when the language of the decision itself does not include substantial direction in terms of scholarships.

There is no substantial precedent here, so if OU faced litigation over offering these scholarships, it is unclear which way the courts would lean. However, OU’s administration is automatically submitting to Yost’s unfounded interpretation and furthering it by refusing to stand by faculty. 

If OU’s rationale is in trying to help professors avoid litigation, its lack of transparency on decision making appears administrators are just leaving professors without support. 

Even if OU feels out of place to challenge Yost in court, the University’s vague communication leaves faculty who manage DEI-based scholarships, programs and courses in a state of confusion and isolation in terms of legal backing.

OU needs more education on diversity given the volume of racist incidents that have been reported over the past few years. In March of 2022, a white student urinated on the door of a Black resident assistant’s door. He was the only Black RA in James Hall at the time. Around this same time, in Sargent Hall, a trash bag with a racist note was found outside the door to the dorm where a Black student resided.

Just this semester, a Black female student reported racist aggravated menacing with a gun to the Ohio University Police Department after she called a man out for using a racial slur.

Beyond the issue that OU already provides an environment where students are comfortable expressing racist sentiments so outwardly is that DEI scholarships at OU do not only exist to increase racial diversity but also of region and income. It is unclear if these scholarships will be affected as well based on Yost’s letter, which only acknowledges race-based scholarships as part of affirmative action.

The SCOTUS ruling was disappointing but expected. Yost’s interpretation of the ruling was again disappointing but along the lines of how other states are interpreting the ruling. OU had the option to stand by its employees at the very least, but instead abandoned faculty who have dedicated themselves to working toward a more equitable university for everyone, not just the white majority.

OU’s response, or more so complicity, to Yost’s overreach in his application of the Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard decision, is a failure to protect both its staff and its students. All eyes remain on the administration as this continues to play out.

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