President Donald Trump has directed a refocus of resources on affirmative action in college admissions, according to The New York Times, which obtained an internal announcement to the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.
The announcement, the paper said, directs the Division to expend additional resources to investigate and potentially sue universities over “intentional race-based discrimination,” which is understood to mean the impact of affirmative action policies on non-minority applicants.
In addition to redirecting resources, the announcement calls for reallocating the work of investigating and potentially suing universities from the Educational Opportunities Section, staffed by long-term civil servants who historically have handled work related to universities, to the Division’s “front office,” comprised of Trump Administration appointees, the paper said. The announcement also requests that current DOJ lawyers interested in working on the project submit resumes.
DOJ spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores has since denied the accuracy of The New York Times story, stating that the internal announcement related to one particular case of discrimination from the Obama Administration, not university admissions in general. The paper’s spokesperson responded, “We stand by our reporting.”
While the extent of the project is not yet known, it signals the DOJ’s shifting priorities under the Trump Administration.
What Should Universities Do Now?
In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, 136 S. Ct. 2198 (2016), a 4-3 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court found the University’s narrowly tailored race-conscious admissions program constitutional. The Court in its opinion explained, “The Court’s affirmance of the University’s admissions policy today does not necessarily mean the University may rely on that same policy without refinement. It is the University’s ongoing obligation to engage in constant deliberation and continued reflection regarding its admission policies.” Therefore, not all affirmative action programs necessarily would pass muster under the current legal standard. The extent to which a program meets the standard is subject to change as demographics and other factors change.
Accordingly, universities should review their established admission policies for compliance with the law.