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Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Trump Takes on Affirmative Action
The Department of Justice announced this week that it intends to conduct an investigation into affirmative action practices at U.S. universities. Its intent is to uncover policies that discriminate against white applicants. The enquiry will be run by members of the DoJ rather than through the non-partisan Educational Opportunities Section, which is typically in charge of such matters.
The furor surrounding affirmative action is symbolic of the nation's larger problems with race. The practice was originally intended to aid historically oppressed groups who were (and remain) proportionally underrepresented at U.S. universities. This has always irked the privileged classes, who have poured years of time and money into undermining affirmative action policies.
Though race-based college admissions is now outlawed in many states (even progressive California), universities have since modified policies to give them the flexibility to evaluate incoming students holistically. Beyond grades and test scores, universities have a great deal of latitude in filling up their freshman classes. This gray area infuriates students who don't get in.
In 2016 U.S. Supreme Court upheld race-base admissions policies in the State of Texas by a ruling of 4-3 in Fisher v University of Texas. Abigail Fisher, a white student, brought the suit years ago after failing to be admitted at the university. Similar suits (by white and Asian-American students) have been waiting on the Fisher result before winding their way through appellate courts.
Like many of the Trump administration policy changes, this one is likely to galvanize a conservative base, and it's impossible to know whether or not (or when) the DoJ will take action. Also unclear is what such an investigation is likely to accomplish. Admissions criteria are notoriously opaque, and race is just one of countless demographics colleges may consider in accepting new students. On this and other issues, the long-term effects of the volatile political climate in the U.S. remain incalculable.
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