Justice Department rescinds Obama-era college admissions guidelines

In a move to refashion college admission standards, the Trump administration on Tuesday dismantled a series of Obama-era guidelines intended to pressure colleges and universities to consider race in its admissions practices.

Policies were introduced and enforced between 2011 and 2016 at the federal level which directly addressed the context of which institutions of higher education could consider an applicant’s race and offered clarification over Supreme Court rulings on affirmative action in admission practices.

In a statement released by the Justice Department, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the action, describing the 24 Obama mandates as “outdated, inconsistent or otherwise improper.”

“The American people deserve to have their voices heard and a government that is accountable to them.  When issuing regulations, federal agencies must abide by constitutional principles and follow the rules set forth by Congress and the president.  In previous administrations . . . agencies often tried to impose new rules on the American people without any public notice or comment period, simply by sending a letter or posting a guidance document on a website.  That’s wrong, and it’s not good government.”

A reversal of Obama-era instructions, however, does not have the force of law and does not mean the abandonment of affirmative action.  In place of the rescinded regulations, the White House reverted to a set of Bush-era “race-neutral” college-admission recommendations published in 2008.

Both the National Education Association (NEA) and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law were critical of Tuesday’s directive, which follows a similar rollback of Obama-era guidelines affecting auto lending in May.

“Affirmative action has proven to be one of the most effective ways to create diverse and inclusive classrooms. But by telling schools and universities that they should not use affirmative action to achieve inclusive classrooms, the Education Department has again failed our students,” a statement by NEA President Lily Eskelsen García read.

The new principles arrive ahead of an expected court date for a lawsuit alleging Harvard University discriminates against Asian-Americans in its admissions standards.  The suit claims Harvard discriminates against students of such heritage, maintaining the school holds Asians to a higher standard than applicants of other races.

The Trump administration resuscitated the probe after it was dismissed by the Obama Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.


[Wall Street Journal] [CNN]