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US: Govt looking to roll back affirmative action at universities

Clegg says the civil rights laws were deliberately written to protect everyone from discrimination. Source: Shutterstock

The US Justice Department is planning to investigate and possibly sue universities over admissions policies that discriminate against white applicants, according to a report from The New York Times.

An internal memo, obtained by The Times, details the reallocation of resources in the civil rights division and urges any lawyers interested in taking part in the programme on “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions” to submit their resume.

While the communication did not explicitly state the project would focus on white students, the phrasing it uses, “intentional race-based discrimination,” implies affirmative action admissions policies will be the likely target, The Times suggests.

The US Supreme Court ruled universities are permitted to use affirmative policies, but institutions are not allowed to go as far as introducing racial quotas. Source: Shutterstock

Affirmative action admissions policies were introduced to bring more students from the most persecuted minorities to university campuses. The US Supreme Court ruled universities are permitted to use these policies, acknowledging race could be used as one factor among many in evaluating an applicant, but stated institutions are not allowed to go as far as introducing racial quotas.

In the US, such policies tend to be designed to give generally disadvantaged groups, like black and Latino students, an edge over other applicants with comparable or higher test scores.

Civil rights activists have come out against the project, with the liberal Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law president Kristen Clarke calling the project “misaligned with the division’s longstanding priorities.”

“This is deeply disturbing,” she told The Times. “It would be a dog whistle that could invite a lot of chaos and unnecessarily create hysteria among colleges and universities who may fear the government may come down on them for their efforts to maintain diversity on their campuses.”

While the report of such a programme has ruffled feathers with liberals in US, the project is not without its supporters and has been welcomed by some as a long overdue counterbalance to the outdated affirmative action policies.

Roger Clegg, a former top official in the civil rights division during the Reagan administration and the first Bush administration who is now president of the conservative Center for Equal Opportunity, told The Times such policies were no longer appropriate in an increasingly multiracial nation.

“The civil rights laws were deliberately written to protect everyone from discrimination,” he said.

“And it is frequently the case not only are whites discriminated against now, but Asian-Americans are as well.”

Specifics of the programme and how the soon-to-be-appointed taskforce will address the investigation have not been revealed. Clegg said however, he would expect the project to focus on investigating complaints the civil rights division received about any university admissions programmes.

There has been an increase in affirmative action policy cases brought to the Supreme Court in recent years, with a high-profile 2016 case that found in favour of the University of Texas after prospective applicants challenged the university’s use of race in the application process.

Two other cases involving Harvard University and University of North Carolina are still pending.

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