Thu, Jul 05, 2018 - Page 7 News List

US changes school admission race policy

DRAMATIC DEPARTURE:Some universities said they would continue their diversity efforts, despite the US Department of Justice saying that the memos were ‘outdated’

AP, WASHINGTON

US President Donald Trump’s administration said the government would no longer encourage schools to use race as a factor in the admissions process, rescinding former US president Barack Obama-era guidance meant to promote diversity among students.

The shift announced on Tuesday gives colleges the federal government’s blessing to leave race out of admissions and enrollment decisions, and underscores the contentious politics that for decades have surrounded affirmation action policies, which have repeatedly been challenged before the US Supreme Court.

The Obama administration memos encouraging schools to take race into account were among 24 policy documents revoked by the US Department of Justice for being “unnecessary, outdated, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper.”

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that the changes were an effort to restore the “rule of law,” although civil rights groups decried the move and some universities said they intend to continue their diversity efforts as before.

The action comes amid a high-profile court fight over Harvard University admissions that has attracted the government’s attention, as well as a Supreme Court turnover expected to produce a more critical eye toward schools’ race-conscious admissions policies.

The court’s most recent significant ruling on the subject bolstered colleges’ use of race among many factors in the admission process.

However, the opinion’s author, Anthony Kennedy, announced his retirement last week, giving Trump a chance to replace him with a justice who might be more reliably skeptical of admissions programs that take race into account.

The new policy dramatically departs from the stance of the Obama administration, which said schools could consider race in admissions decisions.

In one 2011 policy document, the administration said courts had recognized schools’ “compelling interest” in ensuring racially diverse populations on campuses.

“Institutions are not required to implement race-neutral approaches if, in their judgment, the approaches would be unworkable,” the guidance said. “In some cases, race-neutral approaches will be unworkable because they will be ineffective to achieve the diversity the institution seeks.”

That guidance has now been rescinded, as have about a half-dozen similar documents, including some that sought to explain court rulings affirming the use of race to make admissions decisions.

In one such document, the Obama administration said: “As the Supreme Court has recognized, diversity has benefits for all students, and today’s students must be prepared to succeed in a diverse society and an increasingly global workforce.”

The Trump administration’s announcement is more in line with Bush-era policy that discouraged affirmative action and instead encouraged the use of race-neutral alternatives, like percentage plans and economic diversity programs.

Although such guidance does not have the force of law, schools could presumably use it to defend themselves against lawsuits.

The US Department of Justice had already signaled concern about the use of race in admissions decisions.

For instance, it sided this year with Asian-American plaintiffs who contend in a lawsuit against Harvard that the school unlawfully limits how many Asians are admitted.

Students for Fair Admissions, the group suing Harvard, is led by Ed Blum, a legal strategist who also helped white student Abigail Fisher sue the University of Texas for alleged discrimination.

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