WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is rescinding Obama-era guidance that encouraged schools to take a student’s race into account to encourage diversity in admissions, a U.S. official said Tuesday.
The shift would give schools and universities the federal government’s blessing to take a race-neutral approach to the students they consider for admission. Such guidance does not have the force of law, but schools could use it to help defend themselves against lawsuits over their admission policies.
The action comes amid Supreme Court turnover expected to produce a more critical eye toward schools’ affirmative action policies.
The Trump administration signaled Tuesday that it planned to reinstate the Bush administration’s philosophy.
Civil liberties groups immediately decried the move, saying it went against decades of court rulings that permit colleges and universities to take race into account.
“We condemn the Department of Education’s politically motivated attack on affirmative action and deliberate attempt to discourage colleges and universities from pursuing racial diversity at our nation’s colleges and universities,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement.
In 2016, the Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Kennedy, granted affirmative action policies a narrow victory by permitting race to be among the factors considered in the college admission process.
Kennedy wrote that the University of Texas’ admission plan was in line with past court decisions that allowed for the consideration of race to promote diversity on college campuses.
The ruling bitterly disappointed conservatives who thought that Kennedy would be part of a Supreme Court majority to outlaw affirmative action in education. Justice Antonin Scalia died after the court heard arguments in the case but before the decision was handed down.
Eight states already prohibit the use of race in public college admissions: Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington.