Harvard College is facing a major discrimination suit, alleging that its system of considering race as a factor in making admission decisions has systematically excluded some Asian-American applicants in order to hold slots open for students of other races. In 2016, the Supreme Court sided with the University of Texas when a white woman claimed she was denied admission on the basis of race. That case, Fisher v. The University of Texas at Austin, reaffirmed that race *could be used as one factor among many in college admissions.” In recent years, that’s been the official position of the U.S. Department of Education and the Justice Department.
But that’s about to change.
The Trump administration has revoked Obama-era guidelines that supported the use of race as a factor in college admission. The guidelines were just that, and compliance was not mandatory.
Michael Olivas is the William B. Bates Distinguished Chair in Law at the University of Houston Law Center, and director of the Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance. He is the author of “Suing Alma Mater: Higher Education and the Courts.” He says the administration’s latest action fits a pattern.
“What it does is continue the Trump administration’s policy of ‘anything that’s Obama-related has just got to be bad,'” Olivas says. “There is nothing material that has occurred, including this much-touted case at Harvard, that makes any difference in the political stance.”
Olivas says the Obama guidance on race-based admissions was carefully arrived-at, and nuanced. He points out that the current Harvard case hasn’t been decided – it’s currently in the discovery stage.
The University of Texas said after the Trump administration’s action, that it would not be changing its current admissions’ policies.
Olivas says he doubts that other colleges will change current admission policies in response to the administration’s guidance rollback, because college enrollments are down, and institutions need to attract as many students as they can.
“I think that the issue of affirmative action is well-established, – it has been since 1977 – and there’s nothing that has occurred that makes any difference right now,” he says.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.