Democrats Push for Info on Trump Administration's Approach to Race-Conscious Admissions

U.S. House and Senate Democrats on Friday sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos requesting information on their approach to matters involving systemic civil rights abuses and racial diversity in college and university admissions.

"We have serious outstanding concerns about the Trump Administration’s intention regarding policies to promote racial diversity in university admissions and the scope of work your agencies maybe undertaking on this issue," the lawmakers write.

The letter cites a recent New York Times report that revealed Justice Department (DOJ) plans to redirect resources to investigate, and potentially sue, colleges and universities over their affirmative action admissions policies. An internal announcement to the agency's civil rights division called for lawyers for a project on "investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions."

The Trump administration quickly pushed back against the story, but confirmed that the Justice Department is investigating a complaint filed by Asian-American groups accusing Harvard University of racial bias in admissions. The internal document cited by the Times was a call for volunteers to work on the complaint, not a sweeping policy change, according to a department spokeswoman.

The 64 associations, led by the Asian-American Coalition for Education, filed complaints with both the Education and Justice departments alleging that Harvard discriminated against Asian-American applicants based on their race. The Education Department's Office of Civil Rights dismissed the complaint in July 2015, citing an ongoing lawsuit against the university over similar issues. However, the complaint remains pending with the Civil Rights Division at DOJ.

In their letter to AG Sessions and Sec. DeVos, the lawmakers question that the Justice Department's efforts to reexamine admissions practices will be managed by administration political appointees. Additionally, the Congressional Democrats cite concerns with the Education Department's role in setting administration policy toward college admissions practices "given the importance of racial diversity in higher education and its importance to our nation’s global economy."

"Any effort to limit universities' ability to take students' backgrounds, including their race, into account during the admissions process is an abrupt and extremely troubling shift in policy for both Departments," the lawmakers state.

The letter—sent by Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), House Judiciary Committee member; Patty Murray (D-WA), Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee ranking member; Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member; John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), House Judiciary Committee ranking member; Bobby Scott (D-VA), House Education and Labor Committee ranking member—calls for responses to the following requests by September 1, 2017:

  • A description of any new policy currently under consideration at your agencies related to racial diversity in admissions on college and university campuses.
  • All internal job postings related to education, discrimination, or racial diversity from any division within the DOJ since January 2017.
  • A description of any directive given to DOJ employees about how to respond to complaints or cases related to university admissions since January 2017.
  • A description of any directive given to DOJ employees about how to respond to complaints or cases related to racial diversity in education.
  • The current number of individuals employed by the Educational Opportunities Section at DOJ.
  • Any communication between DOJ and any outside group about the Harvard University case or the topic of university admissions.
  • Any communication between ED and any outside group about the Harvard University case or the topic of university admissions.
  • A copy of any written agreement or arrangement to provide data from the Civil Rights Data Collection. If no written agreement exists, a description of that agreement.
  • A description of how ED and DOJ are coordinating to set policy related to higher education issues and all communication between ED and DOJ about college and university admissions policies.

 

Related Links

Letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

http://democrats-edworkforce.house.gov/imo/media/doc/Affirmative%20Action%20Letter.pdf