U.S. to stop encouraging race as factor in school admissions

BOOTHVILLE LA- MAY 21 Members of the 2008 graduating class of South Plaquemines High School wait for the start of their commencement

The New York Times also confirmed the administration's efforts to encourage race-blind admissions standards.

While the decision does not change current United States law on affirmative action, it provides a strong illustration of the administration's position on an issue that could take on renewed attention with the departure of Justice Anthony Kennedy from the Supreme Court. The court has ruled that colleges and universities can use affirmative action to help minority students get into school, but conservatives over the years have argued that these programs hurt the chances of white and Asian-American applicants.

At issue are a series of nonbinding guidelines, issued by the Education Department during the Obama administration, created to encourage schools to continue affirmative action policies in the face of legal restrictions and looming challenges.

Though such guidance doesn't have the force of law, schools could presumably use it to defend themselves against lawsuits over admission policies.

The Obama administration believed that students benefit from being surrounded by diverse classmates, so in 2011, the administration offered schools a potential road map to establishing affirmative action policies that could withstand legal scrutiny. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also has withdrawn Obama-era guidance that instructed schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms in accordance with their gender identity and spelled out how schools should investigate sexual assault. For example, one of the guidances, "Question and Answers About Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin", poses the question "Did the Supreme Court change what colleges and universities must do to narrowly tailor their admissions programs to meet the compelling interest in diversity?"

The Department of Justice is now investigating Harvard's use of race in admissions; specifically, whether the school is holding Asian-American students to a higher standard.

The action, expected Tuesday afternoon, is likely to signal a shift toward advocacy of race-neutral admissions.

"When issuing regulations, federal agencies must abide by constitutional principles and follow the rules set forth by Congress and the president", Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. We've seen again and again the Supreme Court come out and say that there are permissible ways for schools to be able to promote diversity and prevent racial isolations.

And in the final year of Barack Obama's presidency, the Supreme Court vindicated his administration's position. In a statement, the school called the lawsuit an attack on its ability to consider race in admissions, which it says is necessary to assemble a diverse mix of students. "It is more evidence that the Trump administration is skeptical about race-based decision-making in admissions and in other contexts".

As Peter Wood said at the time, the guidance documents "seem to sanction common university practices which circumvent the law". In a 2016 opinion written by Kennedy, the court granted affirmative action policies a victory by permitting race to be among the factors considered in the college admission process.

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