President Obama enforced two guidelines in 2011 and 2016 that encouraged colleges to voluntarily promote diversity and "avoid racial isolation" when considering college admissions. In other words, race could be a factor in the decision making.
Not so fast. Putting another dent in Obama's legacy, President Trump plans to reverse the admissions policy. The 24 documents of guidelines that included advice for schools on how to deal with Supreme Court decisions on race and admissions “were unnecessary, outdated, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper,” according to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The Trump administration signaled the rules could be on the chopping block a year ago, when it began searching for lawyers who were interested in investigating “intentional race-based discrimination” on college campuses. Administration lawyers are investigating a 2015 complaint alleging that Harvard University discriminates against Asian-Americans in its admissions practices.
The Harvard lawsuit, filed by a group called Students for Fair Admissions, alleged that Asian-American applicants had the necessary scores for admission, but time and again were overlooked by other students because of "personality" tests.
According to a Students for Fair Admissions analysis of more than 160,000 applicants who applied for admission over six cycles from 2000 to 2015, Asian Americans scored higher than other racial groups on measures like test scores, but fared less well when it came to an assessment of their personality. Harvard consistently rated Asian-American applicants lower than other races on traits like likability, kindness and “positive personality.”
The Supreme Court has held that affirmative action policies were constitutional since the issue first landed on their plate in 1978 in the case California v. Bakke. While the Court decided in that case that affirmative action was permissible in some cases, racial quotas were not.
Since that ruling, we've seen countless lawsuits from college applicants against schools who they say gave higher priority to minority applicants. One of those students, Abigail Fisher, sued the University of Texas at Austin in 2016. She believed she was spurned by the school because she was white.
"There were people in my class with lower grades who weren't in all the activities I was in, who were being accepted into UT, and the only other difference between us was the color of our skin," she said at the time.
The Court sided against her in a 4-3 ruling, again deciding that affirmative action was permissible.
The Trump administration has also upended Obama's education agenda by withdrawing a policy under Title IX that directed colleges how to handle sexual assault. Critics were merciless after that decision, some even heckling Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as a defender of rapists. She has also been sued by civil rights groups. But, she explained they were just trying to make the process fair for both the victim and the accused.
Last August, Trump also overturned Obama's transgender bathroom mandate, which informed public schools that students would be permitted to use whichever restroom that corresponded to their gender identity, as opposed to their birth certificate. The Trump White House explained they made the reversal because it had spurred too many lawsuits and parents, students and teachers had failed to understand the policy.