Post­ing’s word­ing alarms ac­tivists

U.S. move to in­ves­ti­gate bias in col­lege en­try causes con­cerns

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - SADIE GUR­MAN AND MARIA DANILOVA

WASH­ING­TON — Ac­tivists on Wed­nes­day ac­cused the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of backpedal­ing on an im­por­tant civil-rights ten­ant af­ter re­ports that it was be­gin­ning a project to in­ves­ti­gate whether uni­ver­si­ties dis­crim­i­nate against stu­dents on the ba­sis of race in the ad­mis­sion process.

The New York Times re­ported late Tues­day that a re­cent in­ter­nal Jus­tice Depart­ment job post­ing says it is seek­ing cur­rent em­ploy­ees in­ter­ested in “in­ves­ti­ga­tions and pos­si­ble lit­i­ga­tion re­lated to in­ten­tional race-based dis­crim­i­na­tion in col­lege and univer­sity ad­mis­sions.”

Ad­vo­cacy groups be­lieve that the lan­guage tar­gets af­fir­ma­tive-action pro­grams de­signed to al­low schools to con­sider race in pur­suit of di­ver­sity on cam­pus.

A Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cial said Wed­nes­day that the no­tice was a “per­son­nel post­ing” and not a new pol­icy or pro­gram, adding that the depart­ment al­ways in­ves­ti­gates al­le­ga­tions of race dis­crim­i­na­tion. No fur­ther de­tails were pro­vided.

The Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment de­clined to com­ment. White House spokesman Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said she doesn’t know whether Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump be­lieves that white col­lege ap­pli­cants are vic­tims of dis­crim­i­na­tion, adding that the Jus­tice Depart­ment “will al­ways re­view cred­i­ble al­le­ga­tions of dis­crim­i­na­tion on the ba­sis of any race.”

Such a pro­gram would mark the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s lat­est ef­fort un­der At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions to reshuf­fle the pri­or­i­ties of the Civil Rights Di­vi­sion, which is not un­usual when ad­min­is­tra­tions change. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has worked quickly to shift away from its Demo­cratic pre­de­ces­sors in the ar­eas of gay rights, vot­ing rights and in­ves­ti­ga­tions of trou­bled po­lice de­part­ments.

Vanita Gupta, pres­i­dent of the Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence on Civil and Hu­man Rights and the top civil-rights lawyer in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, said the post­ing shows Ses­sions’ depart­ment is “now ac­tively seek­ing to chal­lenge ef­forts that col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties have un­der­taken to ex­pand ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­nity.”

That, she said, amounts to “chang­ing course on a key civil-rights issue.”

But Roger Clegg, a civil­rights of­fi­cial dur­ing the Rea­gan era who now runs the con­ser­va­tive Cen­ter for Equal Op­por­tu­nity, said it was an en­cour­ag­ing sign.

“Any­time a univer­sity dis­crim­i­nates on the ba­sis of race, it ought to creep peo­ple out, and it doesn’t make any dif­fer­ence who’s be­ing dis­crim­i­nated against on the ba­sis of race,” Clegg said. “I’m de­lighted that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is do­ing this.”

Clegg said con­ser­va­tives were dis­pleased with what they saw as the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sup­port for race-based ad­mis­sions by uni­ver­si­ties.

The Supreme Court last year up­held a Univer­sity of Texas pro­gram that takes ac­count of race, among other fac­tors, in ad­mis­sions, of­fer­ing a nar­row vic­tory for af­fir­ma­tive action. A white Texan who was de­nied ad­mis­sion to the univer­sity sued, but the high court said the Texas plan com­plied with ear­lier court rul­ings that let col­leges con­sider race in an ef­fort to bol­ster di­ver­sity.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment’s move comes as groups have sued other uni­ver­si­ties over the prac­tice. In one case, an al­liance of Asian-Amer­i­can groups sued Har­vard Univer­sity, say­ing that school and other Ivy League in­sti­tu­tions are us­ing racial quo­tas to ad­mit stu­dents other than high-scor­ing Asians.

At Amer­ica’s elite pri­vate col­leges, many of which have drawn crit­i­cism over race-con­scious ad­mis­sion poli­cies, in­com­ing classes have be­come in­creas­ingly di­verse in re­cent years.

Mi­nor­ity-group stu­dents made up more than 40 per­cent of the fresh­man classes at nearly all Ivy League schools in 2015, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent fed­eral data, while only two topped that mark in 2010. At Columbia Univer­sity, about half the in­com­ing class in 2015 was made up of mi­nor­ity stu­dents, the data show.

Sim­i­larly, top pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties have also be­come more di­verse. At some Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia cam­puses, for ex­am­ple, non­white stu­dents made up more than 60 per­cent of the in­com­ing class in 2015.

Those changes partly re­flect de­mo­graphic shifts across the coun­try. Ac­cord­ing to U.S. Cen­sus data, close to half of Amer­i­cans un­der age 18 are mem­bers of racial mi­nori­ties, even though 62 per­cent of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion is white.

Matthew Gaert­ner, an ed­u­ca­tion ex­pert at SRI In­ter­na­tional, a non­profit re­search in­sti­tute, said that of the 3,000 four-year non­profit col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties in Amer­ica, 27 per­cent con­sider ap­pli­cants’ race and eth­nic­ity dur­ing the ad­mis­sion process. But Gaert­ner cau­tioned that doesn’t sim­ply mean giv­ing a cer­tain ap­pli­cant ex­tra points based on their race. In­stead, race is seen as just one of the fac­tors that help ad­mis­sions of­fi­cers de­ter­mine which stu­dents would be aligned with the school’s mis­sion and pri­or­i­ties.

“You can­not place th­ese stu­dents into cat­e­gories and give them boosts based on those cat­e­gories,” Gaert­ner said. “How­ever, you can go through an in­di­vid­u­al­ized assess­ment of each ap­pli­cant via in­ter­pre­ta­tion of their race among many fac­tors, such as whether they play the tuba, their ath­letic gifts, their in­ter­ests.”

Columbia Univer­sity Pres­i­dent Lee Bollinger said the ef­fec­tive­ness of race-con­scious ad­mis­sion poli­cies in pro­vid­ing top-notch higher ed­u­ca­tion and fos­ter­ing di­ver­sity on cam­puses has been demon­strated over decades, while its le­gal­ity and con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity have been main­tained by the courts.

“Amer­i­can col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties are on the right path, and for our coun­try, given its past and hope­fully our fu­ture, this is the right course,” he said.

“Amer­i­can col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties are on the right path, and for our coun­try, given its past and hope­fully our fu­ture, this is the right course.”

— Columbia Univer­sity Pres­i­dent Lee Bollinger, speak­ing about the pos­i­tive as­pects of race-con­scious ad­mis­sion poli­cies

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