Despite the Trump administration’s reversal of Obama-era policies encouraging schools to use affirmative action to diversify their student bodies, Yale will continue to use race as a factor in admissions.
On Tuesday, the U.S. departments of Justice and Education announced in a joint letter that they would abandon the policy, arguing that the Obama White House overstepped its constitutional authority in issuing the guidelines. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos — who less than a year ago rescinded the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, which made recommendations for all American colleges on how to handle reports of sexual misconduct — said in a statement that the Supreme Court has already ruled on the constitutionality of affirmative action policies, and that its decisions should guide schools’ practices.
In a statement to the News, University spokesman Tom Conroy said Yale’s admissions policies have always been in compliance with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the law.
“Yale seeks to create a vibrant and varied academic community where our students interact with people of different backgrounds and points of view,” Conroy wrote. “Our admissions policies and practices reflect and support this goal.”
In 2011 and 2016, the Obama administration issued legal recommendations for schools considering using race as a factor in admissions.
Though the Trump administration’s decision to rescind those recommendations does not change the law, Yale’s choice to stand by its current policies could mean the loss of federal funding from the Department of Education or an investigation or lawsuit from the Department of Justice. After the Obama administration issued its 2011 Dear Colleague Letter urging schools to adopt a lower standard of proof for cases of sexual misconduct, the Justice Department began investigating whether schools were complying, even though that letter, like Tuesday’s shift in policy by the Trump administration, did not alter the law. The federal government penalized schools that did not adopt the new policies.
The Trump administration is already investigating Yale for discrimination against men. In May, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights took up a complaint alleging seven of the University’s single-gender programs and scholarships violated Title IX because they exclusively benefit women. The Office dismissed several other complaints against Yale organizations like the Women’s Center and Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies on the grounds that they do not exclude men or are private or non-profit organizations unaffiliated with the University.
Tuesday’s announcement comes amid increasing scrutiny of affirmative action policies. Most notably, Harvard faces a Justice Department investigation and a lawsuit alleging that the school discriminates against Asian-Americans in its admissions practices. The Asian American Coalition for Education also filed a complaint against Yale, which has not been taken up.
In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled against a challenge to affirmative action policies in Fisher v. University of Texas. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the longtime swing vote who penned the majority opinion, announced his intention to retire last month. With a hardline conservative replacement, the court would have the necessary majority to overturn the precedent.
Correction, July 10: The headline has been updated to reflect the fact that the Trump administration did not issue new guidelines. In fact, it rescinded Obama-era guidelines.