AUSTIN (KXAN/AP) — The Trump Administration rescinded Obama-era guidelines supporting race-based university admissions policies to encourage a diverse campus. The shift announced Tuesday gives colleges the federal government’s blessing to leave race out of admissions and enrollment decisions and underscores the contentious politics that for decades have surrounded affirmation action policies.
Opponents of “affirmative action” see it as a signal that the Department of Justice is now an ally in reforming current higher education policies.
However, the University of Texas at Austin, which is coming off a win at the United States Supreme Court, has no plans on changing. The highest court in the country, in a 4-3 vote, says UT can use race in its admissions process.
“That decision upheld our holistic admissions policies, which remain central to our constitutional mandate to serve the state of Texas, and our mission to prepare graduates to thrive in society,” University of Texas at Austin President Gregory L. Fenves wrote. “The University of Texas seeks to provide the highest quality education for our students, and diversity is essential to those efforts.”
UT uses race as a factor in some of its admissions after its “10 percent rule.” This new move signals that the federal government wants colleges to use only race-neutral factors.
The debate could play out in the Supreme Court as it takes up a lawsuit alleging Harvard excludes Asian-Americans to the benefit of other minority groups. That court won’t have Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is soon retiring. He was key in upholding UT’s affirmative action policies. Now, opponents say they have an ally in Washington.
Marco Guajardo, vice president of University Democrats, believes with so many qualified applicants, UT needs something to differentiate incoming freshmen. In his opinion, UT’s racial makeup doesn’t reflect the state’s as it is and scrapping affirmative action would make it worse.
“That’s a problem because then you begin to sweep away students of a lower income who don’t have the same opportunities as their white peers have,” said Guajardo, “It’s not good for barely six percent of black students at UT to look around and not see too many people that look like them.”
Senior Saurabh Sharma with UT’s Young Conservatives of Texas says affirmative action has run its course. He helped organize a controversial affirmative action bake sale — different prices for different races — as a demonstration.
“At some point, the society should have reached a level of racial reconciliation such that there are other metrics are more appropriate,” explained Sharma.
In his opinion, the current process unfairly leaves some out. “Caucasians, as well as Asians, feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick in the admissions process,” said Sharma.
Not much will change tomorrow but he says the news is a sign of shifting support.
However, recent studies show a significant wealth gap between African-Americans and white Americans. According to the New York Times, for every $100 in white family wealth, black families hold just $5.04.
An Economic Policy Institute study shows that more than one in four black households have zero or negative net worth, that’s compared to less than one in 10 white families.