Race-Based Affirmative Action

Trump Release Guidelines Discouraging Race-Based Affirmative Action

Trump’s administration just released a document on affirmative action reminiscent of George W. Bush’s policies on racial considerations in the education system.

Trump, Affirmative Action, And Academia

On Tuesday, the Trump administration came out and said they would no longer support affirmative action policies in colleges and in universities, effectively reversing their ethos on diversity policies implemented by the Obama administration (1).

Trump’s government called for education institutions to avoid factoring in a student’s racial background in their admission standards. However, the administration did not actually implement or reverse the laws (1).

They merely voiced their ideological position.

The Education And Justice Departments

In a letter written by the Education and Justice Departments, they stated they would rollback seven policy guidelines created under the Obama administration (1).

The New York Times reports that the letter claimed affirmative action goes beyond the “requirements of the Constitution (1).”

Mr. Devin M. O’Malley insinuated the executive branch was “circumventing” Congress and the courts by providing guidance extending beyond the law (1).

Betsy DeVos, the Education Secretary, says the Supreme Court has decided what affirmative action policies are constitutional, and “schools should continue to offer equal opportunities for all students while abiding by the law (1).”

Officials working for the Justice and Education Departments in Trump’s administration state that race shouldn’t be used as a measurement of “diversity in education (1).”

The Supreme Court And Harvard University

Supreme Court Justice, Anthony M. Kennedy, is retiring from his position at the end of this month, and Trump will likely appoint a Justice that is more in line with the administration’s affirmative action viewpoints (1).

The purpose of affirmative action policies based on race is to “integrate” and “diversify,” as well as give a better chance to marginalized groups (1).

However, recently, Harvard University got in trouble for allegedly discriminating against Asians, who are applying to Harvard more often than other students and are passing the scholastic portions of the admissions tests (1).

Harvard supposedly used a test based on personality to discriminate against Asians, by giving them a lower rating on the personality portion of the test.

This sort of practice has long been criticized by anti-affirmative action groups, who claim there are unintended consequences of such policies.

Harvard and Students For Fair Admissions are slated to resolve the conflict later in the year in front of the Supreme Court.

The organization, Students For Fair Admissions, has garnered a reputation for itself as being against affirmative action.

The case will go all the way to the Supreme Court, as Asian-American students claim the university has been giving preferential treatment to White, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, Indigenous, and African-American students, over Asians.

Interestingly, other elite universities have similar numbers of Asian students at their school, including Princeton University. Some are speculating that the issue is systemic at the national level.

Roger Clegg, a leading official of the Center For Equal Opportunity, said using “race in education” is now under the microscope in a new way. It isn’t just whites who are discriminated against, but also Asians and others (1).

Moreover, according to Clegg, the issue will continue to get worse when the demographics of the United States change over time (1).

The Opposition

Nancy Pelosi, a representative of Calfornia and the House Democratic leader, said Trump’s positions on affirmative action policies are an “attack” on people of color and is also against American values (1).

Reportedly, the documents released by the Trump administration aren’t enforced by law, but, essentially, are the official view of the federal government.

In 2011, the Obama administration laid out a guideline for implementing affirmative action programs based on race and other factors. They created a way of doing it so the Supreme Court couldn’t easily strike it down (1).

Back in 2011, the Education and Justice Departments under Mr. Obama issued policy guidelines to schools and colleges, for the sake of establishing diversity on campus (1).

In court, they stated it was “clear” steps could be made to take race into account when admitting students to the school (1).

Trump’s Administration

Justice Department officials under Trump claimed the documents are full of problems and “hypotheticals” which allow schools to abuse the laws, for the sake of privileging some students over the others (1).

The Trump administration intends to return admission practices to the way they were under George Bush Junior’s government (1). They didn’t formally implement Bush’s guidelines and policies but did post a document reflective of Bush Junior’s policies online (1).

The paper states that the Department of Education discourages the use of race for the purpose of admitting students to both elementary and secondary schools (1).

However, for a few years, according to The Times, the document had been replaced by a note saying they chose to abandon the guideline.

The last time the Supreme Court established their position on affirmative action was in 2016 when the court ruled in the favor of the University Of Texas at Austin against a white woman who claims she was discriminated against.

Coincidentally, the woman was backed by the Students for Fair Admissions.

Previously, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the 4-3 win for affirmative action, that, it is a challenge for the nation’s education system to balance the pursuit of diversity with constitutional guidelines of equality of opportunity and dignity.

Not every college and university was on board with the diversity guidelines, with Duke and Bucknell, for instance, saying they would wait and see how the Education Department would go about implementing the policy, while others said they would diversify campuses as the Supreme Court intended.

Melodie Jackson, a spokesperson for Harvard, said the university would continue to use race as one factor in their admission practices, as did the spokesperson for the University of Michigan, who won a Supreme Court case back in 2003 (1).

However, the state law of Michigan banned the idea of race-conscious admission practices. Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, said he would sue universities over “discriminatory” admissions policies (1).

Sessions said he would oppose such policies, and investigate and sue universities over their preferential treatment of some students over others based on racial background.

One Justice Department official stated they weren’t discriminating against minorities, they were instead bringing the Department of Education much closer to the constitutional law.

And on Friday, Mr. Clegg, the head of the Center for Equal Opportunity, stated that preserving affirmative action policies akin to the Obama-era legislation would be like the FBI issuing a statement stating how one can go about racially profiling citizens without getting busted for doing so.

Ms. Devos and the rest of the Education Department didn’t say anything about Harvard’s litigation case.

Kenneth L. Marcus, the head of the civil rights in the Department, has been against affirmative action in the past and signed Tuesday’s letter (1).

The Louis D. Brandeis Center, an organization for human rights, especially in relation to Jewish people, stated the new diversity quotas are being used to discriminate against Asians the same way it was done to Jewish people in the past (1).

As for how this will play out in elementary and secondary schools is currently unclear. Right now, the government of New York City is in a debate regarding whether or not they should continue using a single test for admissions purposes. They’re considering ways to allow more Black and Latino students in (1).

Does Race-Based Affirmative Action Work The Way It’s Intended?

So the question is: does race-based affirmative action function in the way that it’s intended? It depends a lot on a few factors, including whether it’s in blue-collar or white-collar industries, as well as in the public or private sector.

For example, Black-Americans and other minority groups have benefited from affirmative action policies in institutions such as police departments. In Chicago, for instance, there are some black police officers, as well as Hispanic (3).

Chicago’s police department, according to the Chicago Reporter, is 23% African-American, while the population of Chicago is 32% African-American.

However, as for if race-based affirmative action programs work for college and universities is an entirely different story.

Affirmative action began in the universities back in the 1960’s as an attempt to racially integrate American students and foster an inclusive environment in which all could succeed.

However, somewhere along the way, the practice became counter-productive and introduced unintended consequences. Over the last fifty years, race-based affirmative action programs have become a very controversial issue.

The result of which shows university administrations being incredibly selective – in already selective schools – based on race with a disparity so large that the administrators work hard to conceal just how much race is a factor.

According to The Atlantic, the most intense preferences tend to be for middle-class to upper-middle class minorities who actually suffer the most as a result of these policies (4).

However, more modest and less aggressive policies to help working class and the poor could provide a much better benefit (4).

Academic administrators and leaders get around constitutional protections in sneaky ways, and the public and students are often painfully aware of the discrimination and negative unintended consequences but are powerless against it (4).

The most recent case of this, of course, would be the Harvard case against Students For Fair Admissions, the anti-affirmative action group that is currently fighting in the name of Asian-American students (4).

The Atlantic claims research has shown the tendency of these preferences to harm the groups they’re intending to help (4).

For instance, when these students are allowed into a school that’s highly competitive, they often underperform and would’ve done much better off in a less prestigious school (4).

Critics of race-based affirmative action programs call it a “mismatch (4).”

Black-Americans may be more likely to gain acceptance in a college than white, but when it comes to how they perform in the school, they don’t do as well and rank at the bottom of the class. Many of them drop out (4).

Because of this mismatching effect, race-based affirmative action policies unintentionally stigmatize other minorities who aren’t privileged in the admissions process due to their race (4).

The Atlantic claims that it also “undermines the confidence of the beneficiaries,” rather than producing the utopian college campus filled with all colors and races that are promoted in their brochures (4).

The result of the mismatch effect is, for example, when a student gets into a school because of his/her athletic prowess, but often due to race, and finds themselves underperforming in a school that has incredibly high scholastic standards and expectations (4).

In other words, these students are often unprepared for the school they find themselves in.

For instance, if a student is accepted at Harvard University based on race or history of athleticism, they’ll find themselves trying to learn under a professor who is going at a pace that far exceeds their education background (4).

As the student falls behind, and as their fellow students exceed, the underperforming student finds themselves in a state of panic and self-doubt, making their current situation even worse.

Small preferences may be beneficial. But the problem is that these racial preferences are often so large, in the form of the addition of hundreds of SAT points, that the student gets accepted when, really, they shouldn’t be allowed in (4).

Not because they’re inferior, but because they are simply unprepared to enter that particular college.

However, affirmatice action programs seem to work in the public sector, and for government jobs, rather than in the private sector and in academia. Thus, affirmatice action policies have their place, especially in relation to the working-class and the poor.


(1) New York Times 

(2) Education Government 

(3) Chicago Reporter 

(4) The Atlantic