The Trump administration’s pursuit of colleges for making racial preferences an unfair part of the admissions process bore some fruit on Tuesday, as Texas Tech University’s medical school announced it would stop using race when it considered which students to accept.
As The Wall Street Journal reported, the issue between the federal government and the university dates back to 2003, when the Supreme Court ruled in Grutter v. Bollinger that universities could weigh race in admissions decisions. The university then started using applicants’ race and national origin when considering whom to accept into the school. In 2004, a complaint was filed against the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine by the Center for Equal Opportunity with the Education Department’s civil rights division; the department launched an investigation in 2005.
Although the university system stopped factoring in race in admissions decisions at its pharmacy school in 2008 and in undergraduate admissions in 2013, the medical school continued, claiming that a diverse set of applicants could ensure success with the state’s diverse communities.
Between 2011 and 2016, the Obama administration published guidelines for colleges and universities regarding the use of race as a factor in college admissions that were criticized as going farther than Supreme Court precedent had established.
Roger Clegg, president and general counsel of the Council for Equal Opportunity, pointed out, “Just because the courts have ruled that some kinds of racial discrimination are legally permissible does not mean it is appropriate for the federal government to encourage as much of it as people can get away with.”
In July 2018, the Trump administration started encouraging schools and colleges to adopt race-neutral admissions standards. The Trump administration quoted a 2008 statement from the Bush administration Department of Education that asserted, “The Department of Education strongly encourages the use of race-neutral methods for assigning students to elementary and secondary schools. … When developing student assignment approaches, districts must comply with the constitutional principles of equal protection.”
The Trump administration’s request to Texas Tech to stop using race as a factor is the first time the administration has made that request of any school; the Trump administration suggested to Texas Tech that if it wanted to achieve diversity, it could rely on accepting students from low-income areas or those who are bilingual.
A suit was filed in 2014 by a group called Students for Fair Admissions that contended that Harvard intentionally discriminated against Asian-Americans; the plaintiffs claimed that Harvard showed a “stunning failure to take the elementary steps required by the law” to achieve diversity without taking race into account. The Trump administration offered a brief in support of the lawsuit.
Harvard spokeswoman Melodie Jackson fired back that Harvard “will 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.”
In September 2018, the Trump administration’s Education and Justice departments began an investigation into Yale University’s alleged discrimination against Asian American applicants. The Department of Justice had already started probing Harvard.
Clegg commented, “This shows the Trump administration is taking seriously its responsibility to enforce civil rights in a way that protects all Americans. The more schools that don’t use racial preferences, the harder it is for the remaining schools to justify their use of it.”