Trump Administration Kills Obama’s Policy on Race in College Applications

by | Jul 4, 2018

The U.S. Department of Justices nullified a set of Obama-era guidelines on affirmative action that promoted using race in admission standards to achieve diversity in schools.

The admission memos were among 24 policy documents, published between 2011 and 2015, provided educational context in which institutions could legally consider race and clarified how to interpret Supreme Court decisions. The policies called on universities to consider race as a factor in diversifying their campuses.

Signaling that the Trump administration will champion race-blind admission standards, Attorney General Jeff Sessions withdrew the guidelines on July 3 for being “unnecessary, outdated, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper,” in what Sessions said was a return to “the rule of law.”

The new guidelines encourage “race-neutral” methods of admitting students to elementary and secondary schools.

“The American people deserve to have their voices heard and a government that is accountable to them. When issuing regulations, federal agencies must abide by constitutional principles and follow the rules set forth by Congress and the president,” he said. “In previous administrations, however, agencies often tried to impose new rules on the American people without any public notice or comment period, simply by sending a letter or posting a guidance document on a website. That’s wrong, and it’s not good government.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos argued in the Obama-era policy guidelines advocate policy preferences beyond the requirements of the constitution.

“The Supreme Court has determined what affirmative action policies are constitutional and the court’s written decisions are the best guide for navigating this complex issue. Schools should continue to offer equal opportunities for all students while abiding by the law.”

School administrators who continue race-conscious admission policies could face a Justice Department investigation or lawsuit for discrimination or lose funding from the Education Department.

Returning the government’s policies to the George W. Bush era, the Trump administration reposted a Bush administration affirmative action policy online, which states “The Department of Education strongly encourages the use of race-neutral methods for assigning students to elementary and secondary schools.”

That document had been replaced by a note declaring that the policy had been withdrawn under the Obama Educations and Justice Departments, which issues documents in 2011 informing elementary and secondary schools and college campuses of the of “the compelling interests” established by the Supreme Court to achieve diversity. They concluded that the court “has made clear such steps can include taking account of the race of individual students in a narrowly tailored manner.”

The decision came as the Justice Department is investigating whether Harvard University is illegally discriminating against Asian-American students in response to a civil lawsuit brought by non-profit group Students for Fair Admissions. SFA accuses the prestigious institution of systematically excluding Asian students from being admitted to the school.

The highly anticipated case is aimed at the Supreme Court. The retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy at the end of July will leave the Supreme Court without its swing vote on affirmative action.

A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted by watchdog group American Oversight revealed Justice Department officials were probing Harvard Univerity over the alleged practice.

“Many Asian-American students who have almost perfect SAT scores, top 1 percent GPAs, plus significant awards or leadership positions in various extracurricular activities have been rejected by Harvard University and other Ivy League Colleges while similarly situated applicants of other races have been admitted,” said the complaint.

Melodie Jackson, a Harvard spokeswoman, issued a statement defending the school’s race-based admission policies, contending the university would “continue to vigorously defend its right, and that of all colleges and universities, to consider race as one factor among many in college admissions, which has been upheld by the Supreme Court for more than 40 years.”

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