On Tuesday night, The New York Times reported on an internal Department of Justice (DOJ) memo that suggests the Trump administration will target affirmative action, or “race-based discrimination,” in colleges and universities.
The Times quoted the internal memo that requested lawyers interested in a project involving “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.”
As Fox News reported, the document does not say which races and ethnicities are considered by the Trump administration to be “at risk” for discrimination, but the Times suggested that Jeff Sessions’ DOJ could dismantle affirmative action policies, which seek to elevate underrepresented racial minorities in college admissions.
The Times interpreted the memo as suggesting the Trump DOJ would prosecute affirmative action as discrimination against white applicants. One senior U.S. government official told Fox News that the Times story appeared to assume the memo refers to white students without evidence.
“Whenever there’s a credible allegation of discrimination on the basis of race, the department should look into it,” a DOJ official told Fox News. The DOJ did not deny the existence of the memo in comments to Fox, but insisted “this isn’t a policy announcement.”
The Times reported that the DOJ will redirect resources from the department’s civil rights division. The operation will not be run through the DOJ’s Educational Opportunities Section, but rather by the division’s front office which is composed of Trump political appointees.
Two sources told The Washington Post that hand-picked Trump appointees will run the project because career staffers who specialize in education issues refused to take part in the project, attacking it as a violation of the DOJ’s long-term stance on civil rights in school admissions.
The Post‘s Philip Bump suggested this policy shift revealed racism in the Trump administration. “Trump, an eager consumer of conservative news, has no doubt seen scores of Fox News segments focused on the effects of affirmative action, a subset of a broader focus on how Democrats — usually meaning people of color — undeservedly get things free: phones, education, housing, etc.,” Bump wrote.
But affirmative action is unpopular, even among African-Americans, according to a Gallup poll taken last July. A full 70 percent of Americans told Gallup they believe colleges should admit applicants based solely on merit, while only 26 percent said colleges should take race and ethnicity into account to promote diversity.
While non-Hispanic whites were more likely to favor merit over racial considerations (76 percent to 22 percent), non-Hispanic blacks agreed. Half of these African-Americans (50 percent) said applicants should only be judged on merit, while 44 percent said race should be taken into account. Hispanics fell between the two groups, with 61 percent favoring merit alone, and 29 percent saying race should be taken into account.
Even so, liberals are likely to continue to attack this potential new policy as racist. Some (like Bump) have already responded by calling for the end of “legacy” preferences for applicants whose parents graduated from the college in question.
If universities have to get rid of any remaining affirmative action programs they should have to eliminate legacy preferences too.
— Clara Jeffery (@ClaraJeffery) August 2, 2017
The Trump administration has not made an official announcement, and the memo only revealed the very first steps of a very incomplete policy. For example, it remains to be seen how this policy will deal with Asian-Americans, who tend to be overlooked in the affirmative action debate.