Between 2011 and 2016, President Barack Obama issued several guidelines recommending colleges use race as a factor in admissions to boost the number of underrepresented minorities in higher education. Last week, the Justice Department announced the rollback of the guidelines as part of the elimination of 24 federal guidance documents, saying they were “unnecessary, outdated, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper.”
Colleges that defy federal guidelines could be subject to a federal investigation or lawsuit or lose funding from the U.S. Department of Education. Still, top schools from around the nation — including five Ivy league institutions — told HuffPost that they plan to continue using race as a factor in admissions.
Harvard University, which is in the middle of a closely watched lawsuit about its admissions practices, said it plans to buck the federal government’s new guidelines to ensure the diversity of its student body.
“Harvard will continue to vigorously defend its right, and that of all colleges and universities, to consider race as one factor among many in college admissions, which has been upheld by the Supreme Court for more than 40 years,” a Harvard spokeswoman said.
Brown University said it will also maintain its current policies, adding that the school would oppose any laws that would prevent it from doing so.
“Through our race-conscious admission practices, Brown assembles the diverse range of perspectives and experiences essential for a learning and research community that prepares students to thrive in a complex and changing world,” a university spokesperson said.
Dartmouth College said it will continue to exercise its right to affirmative action, citing the Supreme Court’s multiple rulings upholding the controversial practice. The Supreme Court deemed affirmative action constitutional in two court cases in 2003, saying that diversity is a “compelling governmental interest” to justify the use of racial preferences in college admissions. In 2016, the court reaffirmed the ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas.
Schools in the South (College of William and Mary, Rice University and Emory University) and New England (Tufts University, Middlebury College) told HuffPost they would also continue to consider race as an admissions factor.
“We have found that a diverse student body adds to the breadth of perspectives that enhance student learning and contribute to constructive engagement with undergraduate life,” a Rice University spokesperson said. “In some cases, race or ethnicity may be considered as one factor among many.”
Two days after the government’s announcement, Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed the New York state system to adhere to existing diversity and inclusion plans.
“The new federal action should have no bearing on admission policies and should not interfere with SUNY’s and CUNY’s commitment to a diverse and inclusive student body,” Cuomo wrote in an open letter to university trustees. “We will continue to work together to dismantle barriers to social and economic mobility and extend the promise of equal opportunity to all New Yorkers.”
Together, SUNY and CUNY encompass 88 campuses serving more than 800,000 students in New York.
Several colleges are already restricted from affirmative action under state laws. California, which is home to the University of California system that currently teaches more than 235,000 students, has barred colleges from considering race in admissions. Seven other states also ban affirmative action at their public universities: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington.