Trump rolls back Obama-era diversity-based school admission guidelines

The president plans to revoke policy aimed at diversity in education

President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday, July 3  that he will be rescinding Obama-era guidelines that encouraged schools and universities to promote racial diversity in admissions, further signaling the effective end of affirmative action amid a transitioning Supreme Court.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that the Dept. of Justice (DOJ) — along with the Dept. of Education — is rescinding 24 guidance documents implemented by the Obama administration that asked school administrators to consider race in its student admissions, staying true to a November 2017 memo Sessions sent prohibiting the DOJ from implementing rules without “procedures required by Congress.”

“In the Trump administration, we are restoring the rule of law. That’s why in November I banned this practice at the Department [of Justice] and we began rescinding guidance documents that were issued improperly or that were simply inconsistent with current law,” Sessions said, alleging that the Obama administration acted against “constitutional principles” in imposing rules “without any public notice.”

However, a number of civil rights laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, do address the issue of race in school admissions, and the stipulations of those laws will will not be affected by the Trump administration’s retractions, which only affect the new rules put in place by Obama.

The rescission of diversity-based guidelines means that the administration will promote race-neutral methods in admissions, although the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that colleges and universities may use race as a holistic marker for admissions, as long as its use is “narrowly-tailored.”

But with the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy (who has voted in favor of affirmative action practices), those rulings may present a legal change as Trump is set to appoint a new justice next year.

Several universities, despite Trump’s reversal, have announced that they would still be promoting diversity in their admissions policies.

“Four decades of case law make clear that race and ethnicity can be one of many factors that universities can consider during the admissions process,” President of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities Peter McPherson said in a statement.

“Public universities will continue to operate in accordance with the Constitution, state law, and past court rulings to ensure they appropriately foster a diverse campus to the benefit of all.”

The prestigious Harvard University, which has been embroiled in a court battle for its admissions policies, pledged this week to “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.”

As expected, civil rights organizations that advocate for racial diversity in education have expressed concern over the move due to the increasing socio-economic disparity that systemically doesn’t admit certain students of color.

“If the Trump Administration insists on rolling back guidance on diversity practices in admissions, it will add another line item to its already staggering record on undermining our education system,” National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA) National Director Gregg Orton said in a statement on Thursday.

The “model minority myth” — which posits that all Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students excel academically — is often applied to the culturally and socio-economically diverse AAPI  student body, and it alienates AAPI students who may not have the grades, income or other resources required to get into a four-year university and could benefit from affirmative action guidelines.

“To assume that [AAPI] success is universal, reinforces the same tired ‘model minority myth’ that opponents of affirmative action have used to wedge our community between others for decades,” Orton said. “Millions of AAPIs continue to struggle and their experiences are erased when these assumptions are made.”

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