August 02, 2017

Race-Conscious Admissions Returns to the Spotlight

Evan Vucci/AP Images
The U.S. Justice Department, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions (shown with President Trump, left), said in a leaked memo that it was seeking lawyers to conduct “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.”
Most observers expected that with a Republican president in office, the federal government would take a traditional Republican view of race-conscious college admissions — in short, extreme skepticism about the use, value, and constitutionality of this form of affirmative action.

What those observers didn’t expect was how we would find out about the federal government’s shifting view from the Obama administration to the Trump administration — a leaked memo from the Department of Justice seeking lawyers to participate in “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.”

The disclosure of that memo, in a New York Times article, set higher-education leaders on edge, as the issues surrounding affirmative action in admissions returned to the spotlight, barely a year after the U.S. Supreme Court last weighed in on the controversial practice. Here’s all of The Chronicle's coverage, including news, analysis, and opinion.

Any federal challenge to colleges that consider applicants’ race will bump up against the Supreme Court’s repeated blessings of such policies.

The debate over race-conscious admissions is back in the headlines. Some experts say it’s time to examine other preferences, too — including those for the children of alumni.

Confronted with the prospect of adversarial proceedings, colleges will spend more time and resources on admissions and less on programs that capitalize on diversity in their student bodies.

A constituency that feels threatened by a diversifying America is rewarded by the administration it put into office.

The notion that race-conscious admissions are systematically biased against some applicants has been a rallying cry of critics for decades. The data paint a different picture.

The answers haven’t really changed in light of reports about the Justice Department’s apparent interest in potential racial bias in admissions, experts say. But it’s a good time for a refresher.

The Justice Department reportedly will direct resources to investigating colleges that are perceived as discriminating against white applicants. Some groups rebuke that decision as a step back from protecting civil rights.

In June, the top civil-rights official at the Education Department told a meeting of college lawyers that she didn’t “foresee there being any new regulation or policy on the topic of racial preferences” in admissions.

The U.S. Department of Justice is reportedly taking aim at colleges’ consideration of race in admissions. Here’s a look at where the issue stands.

Campus leaders shouldn’t overreact to the Justice Department’s steps. But on the horizon lies a real cause for concern.