When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the affirmative action programs at universities, vaguely altering the precedence of admissions for incoming students, the ruling resulted in widespread dissent and social unrest in various U.S. states. 

Amid the ensuing national conversation on diversity in higher education, NYU Shanghai’s admissions policy and its commitment to fostering a multicultural environment have come into focus. The U.S. decision appears to have no direct impact on NYU Shanghai.

NYU Shanghai’s Vice Chancellor Jeffrey Lehman discussed during an interview the university’s unique approach to admissions and diversity.

He reflected on the legal challenges to admissions policies at institutions like Harvard and the University of North Carolina, emphasizing the need to manage admissions to counter stereotypes.

“What is important is that a university admissions policy be organized around the benefits of breaking down stereotypes rather than promoting a view that one’s identity and one’s worldview are defined by race,” he said.

NYU Shanghai stands out as a truly international institution, with a dual identity, awarding degrees from the trustees of New York University in the United States and Shanghai New York University, and accredited by the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China. 

“The heart of NYU Shanghai’s mission lies in fostering a multicultural, diverse, and nationality-diverse community,” Professor Lehman said in reiterating the university’s mission aims.

“From day zero, we talked about how essential it is as part of the educational experience [we offer] that students are constantly interacting with people from different cultures. Traditionally we’ve had students from maybe 60 different countries. We do pay attention to nationality explicitly, and we don’t have quotas,” he added.

“We do not say ‘we’re going to take this many people from this country.’ Diversity on the basis of nationality is a plus factor and contributes to the education that we offer.”

NYU Shanghai sits outside the scope of other academic institutions.

In fact, as Professor Lehman assured about the Supreme Court decision: “I don’t expect there will be an impact on NYU Shanghai, just because the University of North Carolina, Michigan, did not say ‘we care about diversity based on nationality’. Nationality is not a suspect classification in the same way as race.” 

The Vice Chancellor further elaborated on how race is a “uniquely dangerous suspect classification” and how a university’s admissions policy can be organized around the benefits of breaking down stereotypes rather than promoting a view that one’s identity and one’s worldview is defined by race. 

With that said, NYU Shanghai’s admissions policy is primarily based on nationality and culture and the U.S. Supreme Court can do nothing against the use of these factors in admitting applicants.

Vice Chancellor Lehman’s perspective underscores the complex and multifaceted nature of the affirmative action debate. His argument suggests that addressing disparities solely through the lens of generational wealth might overlook other crucial factors related to racial discrimination and inequality.

Race-based stereotypes, as he points out, have deep historical roots in the United States, and they continue to impact people’s lives in various ways. They can influence how individuals are perceived and treated, and limit their opportunities in society. In this context, considering race as a criterion for affirmative action can be seen as a means to counteracting these harmful stereotypes and promoting a more inclusive and equitable society.

Professor Lehman’s stance emphasizes the importance of a holistic approach to addressing inequalities in education and beyond. While wealth can be a significant indicator of privilege and disadvantage, it’s not the only factor at play.

To create the best possible educational environment and strive for true equality, it may be necessary to take into account the historical and ongoing impact of racial discrimination, stereotypes, and bias.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, while generating significant debate and consequences for institutions in the United States, does not directly impact NYU Shanghai. By embracing cultural and national diversity as its primary objective, it is navigating the complex landscape of diversity and inclusion in a post-affirmative action era.

As the world watches how American universities adjust to the changing landscape, NYU Shanghai stands as a unique model for promoting diversity and cultural exchange.