WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump's administration is rescinding guidance that encouraged schools to take a student's race into account to promote diversity in admissions.
The shift gives schools and universities the federal government's blessing to take a race-neutral approach in admissions and enrollment decisions.
The affirmative action policies were among 24 documents rescinded by the Justice Department on Tuesday for being "unnecessary, outdated, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper." Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the changes an effort to restore the "rule of law" and blamed past administrations for imposing new rules without any public notice or comment.
"That's wrong, and it's not good government," Sessions said in a statement.
The action comes amid a high-profile court fight over admission at Harvard University as well as Supreme Court turnover expected to produce a more critical eye toward schools' affirmative action policies.
The court's most recent significant ruling on the subject bolstered colleges' use of race among many factors in the admission process. But the opinion's author, Anthony Kennedy, announced his retirement last week, giving Trump a chance to replace him with a justice who may be more reliably skeptical of admissions programs that take race and ethnicity into account.
The new policy would depart from the stance taken by former President Barack Obama's administration, which in a 2011 policy document said courts had recognized schools' "compelling interest" in diverse populations. The guidance said that while race should not be the primary factor in an admission decision, schools could lawfully consider it in the interest of achieving diversity.
"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That guidance has now been rescinded, as have more than a half-dozen other similar documents, including some that sought to explain Supreme Court rulings affirming the use of race as one of several factors in the admissions process.
The Obama approach replaced Bush-era policy from a decade earlier that discouraged affirmative action and instead encouraged the use of race-neutral alternatives such as percentage plans and economic diversity programs.
The Trump administration's announcement Tuesday is more in line with Bush administration policy, and though the guidance does not have the force of law, schools could use it to help defend themselves against lawsuits over their admission policies.
The Justice Department in the Trump administration had already signaled its concern about the use of race in admissions decisions.
The department, for instance, has sided with Asian-American plaintiffs suing Harvard University who argue that the school unlawfully limits how many Asian students 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 in a case that went to the Supreme Court.
Blum said Tuesday that the organization "welcomes any governmental actions that will eliminate racial classifications and preferences in college admissions." Harvard, meanwhile, said it would continue considering race as an admissions factor to create a "diverse campus community where students from all walks of life have the opportunity to learn with and from each other."
Civil-liberties groups decried the move, saying it went against decades of court rulings that permit colleges and universities to take race into account.
"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," Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement.
The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities said it was "very disappointed." Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, said "affirmative action has proven to be one of the most effective ways to create diverse and inclusive classrooms."
Information for this article was contributed by Mark Sherman, Jesse Holland, Collin Binkley and Errin Haines Whack of The Associated Press.
A Section on 07/04/2018
Print Headline: Trump to ax college diversity guideline