Donald Trump revokes Obama guidance on race in school admissions

The Trump administration rescinded an Obama-era guidance that encouraged schools to take a student’s race into account to promote diversity in admissions. The shift suggests schools will have the federal government’s blessing to leave race out of admissions and enrollment decisions, and it underscores the contentious politics that continue to surround affirmative action policies, which have repeatedly been challenged before the Supreme Court.The admissions memos were among 24 policy documents revoked by the Justice Department yesterday for being “unnecessary, outdated, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper.”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 seeking public 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 Harvard University admissions as well as 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. But the opinion’s author, Anthony Kennedy, announced his retirement last week, giving President Donald 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 dramatically departs from the stance of the Obama administration, which in a 2011 policy document said courts had recognized schools’ “compelling interest” in ensuring racially diverse populations.
The guidance said that while race shouldn’t 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That guidance has now been rescinded, as have more than a half-dozen other similar documents, including some that sought to explain court rulings affirming the use of race as one of several factors in the admissions process.
In one such document, the Obama administration stated, “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.