Michelle Hackman, Wall Street Journal, April 9, 2109
Civil rights officials at the U.S. Education Department are requiring the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center medical school to cease factoring race into admissions decisions, putting other institutions of higher education on notice that their continued use of affirmative action policies will draw federal scrutiny.
The mandate came in a deal the medical school struck with the Education Department in February, concluding a 14-year federal investigation into the university’s use of affirmative action, according to a copy of the resolution agreement viewed by The Wall Street Journal. Other schools in the Texas Tech University System, including the flagship undergraduate program, dropped their use of affirmative action during the investigation.
The Texas Tech agreement marks the first time the Trump administration has asked a school to curtail its affirmative-action practices, and signals the administration’s desire to limit the extent to which universities can factor race into admissions. In the agreement, the administration suggested the medical school consider race-neutral factors to achieve its diversity goals, such as recruiting students from low-income areas and favoring bilingual or first-generation college students.
“This shows the Trump administration is taking seriously its responsibility to enforce civil rights in a way that protects all Americans,” said Roger Clegg, general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, an anti-affirmative action advocacy group. “The more schools that don’t use racial preferences, the harder it is for the remaining schools to justify their use of it.”
Under President Trump, a Republican, the Education Department has argued that the administration of Democratic President Obama took an overly expansive view of how schools can factor race into their admissions decisions. The department claims the Obama administration went beyond Supreme Court precedent by actively encouraging racial bias and leading schools to believe that legal affirmative action is simpler to carry out than the law allows.
In July, the Education Department revoked a set of Obama-era guidelines laying out how schools could legally weigh race as one factor to achieve diversity, and the Justice Department filed a brief in support of Harvard applicants who accuse the school in a lawsuit of holding Asian Americans to a higher admissions standard.
The court’s 2003 decree has been interpreted by Education Department officials and most schools to require them to ensure each year that factors other than race, such as socioeconomic status, help achieve the same levels of diversity. In its resolution agreement, Education Department officials said the school hadn’t been conducting those annual assessments.
But the medical school argued that it must continue weighing race in its admissions process because a cohort of doctors from different backgrounds could best serve Texas’ racially and ethnically diverse communities.
According to the resolution agreement, the medical school wasn’t annually reviewing whether race-based measures in admissions were necessary. Therefore, they couldn’t rule out that other factors like whether the applicant is a first-generation college student or is bilingual could yield similar levels of diversity, according to the agreement.