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Statement from Dean Riley on Supreme Court ruling on race in higher education admissions

June 30, 2023

Like many of you, I was deeply dismayed by the action of the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday in ruling that universities’ race-conscious admission policies violate the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment equal protection clause. Although the Court did not entirely ban the consideration of race in admissions, it will undoubtedly disrupt the enormous strides made by higher education in recent years to address systemic inequities and create welcoming and equitable environments for students of all backgrounds. In our School of Engineering, I am concerned most of all that prospective and current students may doubt that they belong in our classrooms and labs.

I have spent a majority of my career in the field of engineering education, championing policies and programs that support diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. In professions like engineering, which have traditionally been lacking in diversity of all types, we have been acutely aware of the need to remove barriers, extend opportunities, and smooth pathways into the profession. As the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities President Mark Becker put it yesterday, “Talent is spread across all zip codes, but opportunity is not.”

I am grateful to be part of the UNM community, where we are committed to extending opportunity in our state of New Mexico and beyond, empowering students and alumni to transform our local communities, our nation, and the world.

I and many others (including President Stokes in her message yesterday and Provost Holloway and other members of the UNM administration in a message today) feel the Court’s decision is inconsistent with UNM’s mission, vision, and values, as outlined in UNM 2040, including “working in a collaborative environment where diversity is cherished and there is a shared sense of belonging.” I want to make it clear that at UNM and in the School of Engineering, we will continue our commitment to lead in meeting tomorrow’s challenges by drawing on our diversity as a strength.

As I guide the School of Engineering into its strategic planning process this summer and fall, a key goal will to be to develop the School’s mission and vision, and now more than ever, it is imperative that we take bold, specific actions to cultivate an environment where diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and belonging are not just permitted or tolerated, but welcomed and necessary. The challenges of today and tomorrow require engineers from all backgrounds and perspectives. I am proud that UNM is taking the lead, and that message is loud and clear in the School of Engineering: You are welcome here.

Donna Riley
Jim and Ellen King Dean of Engineering and Computing