NAICU Washington Update

Justice Department Alleges University Affirmative Action Program is Discriminatory

August 14, 2020

The Trump Administration has issued a finding alleging that Yale University’s race-conscious admissions program violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in federally funded programs or activities.  The finding by the Department of Justice (DOJ) is the result of one of several investigations the agency has conducted into affirmative action programs at elite institutions of higher education.
According to DOJ, Yale’s voluntary consideration of race for purposes of promoting diversity in undergraduate admissions – a practice that is generally considered constitutionally permissible under narrow circumstances – unlawfully discriminates against white and Asian American students. In order to cure the alleged violation, DOJ has demanded that Yale refrain from considering race or national origin during its upcoming admissions cycle and to submit plans for approval in future cycles.
In a statement to CNBC, a spokeswoman for Yale labeled DOJ’s accusations “meritless and hasty” and said the agency made its conclusions before the university had provided enough information to show that its practices “absolutely comply with decades of Supreme Court precedent.”
In general, the Trump Administration has been more aggressive about taking action to challenge affirmative action programs in higher education. For example, the Administration rescinded Obama-era guidance explaining proactive steps that colleges and universities could voluntarily take to increase diversity at their institutions, replacing it with guidance that had previously been in effect during the Bush Administration. The Bush-era guidance emphasizes that “if a postsecondary institution seeks to use racial classifications in admissions, it will bear the burden of providing sufficient detail about its process to enable [the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education] to determine whether the institution is complying with Title VI.”
Although DOJ’s affirmative action investigations are currently limited to a small number of colleges and universities, the agency could initiate Title VI investigations against other private institutions in the future.

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