The Trump administration is set to rescind a set of affirmative action guidelines that advised colleges to take the race of students into consideration during the admissions process, in efforts to diversify the student body.
Put in place between 2011 and 2016 under President Barrack Obama, the guidelines encouraged colleges to “voluntarily promote diversity and avoid racial isolation” in their admissions practices, according to CNBC’s report. They were issued at the time to provide guidance on a number of Supreme Court cases that were related to affirmative action.
“The executive branch cannot circumvent Congress or the courts by creating guidance that goes beyond the law and — in some instances — stays on the books for decades,” Justice Department spokesperson Devin O’Malley told CNN in a statement. “Last year, the Attorney General initiated a review of guidance documents, which resulted in dozens of examples — including today’s second tranche of rescission — of documents that go beyond or are inconsistent with the Constitution and federal law. The Justice Department remains committed to enforcing the law and protecting all Americans from all forms of illegal race-based discrimination.”
For those who have followed diversity and discrimination on college campuses closely, the shift in stance wouldn’t come as a surprise. Last fall, according to documents obtained by The New York Times, the Trump administration signaled it would redirect the resources of the DOJ’s civil rights division toward “investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants.”
Early last year, the Justice Department withdrew two policy documents related to college’s enforcement of Title IX. By fall, 25 documents were rescinded by the Justice Department after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the federal agency was ending the department’s practice of regulation by guidance.
A leading higher education group has already vowed to ignore the Trump administration’s guidance reversal, per Politico.
“The Trump administration is sending precisely the wrong message to institutions that are committed to following four decades of Supreme Court precedent,” said Ted Mitchell, the president of the American Council on Education, the largest higher education lobbying group, in a statement. “Colleges and universities that consider race and ethnicity as one factor in a holistic admissions review are committed to following the law of the land. And make no mistake, this is the law of the land. Today’s announcement does not change that,” said Mitchell, a former member of the Obama administration Education Department.
“We condemn the Department of Education’s politically motivated attack on affirmative action and deliberate attempt to discourage colleges and universities from pursuing racial diversity at our nation’s colleges and universities,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The rescission of this guidance does not overrule forty years of precedent that affirms the constitutionality of a university’s limited use of race in college admissions. This most recent decision by the Department of Education is wholly consistent with the administration’s unwavering hostility towards diversity in our schools.”