WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration plans to encourage colleges to ignore race in their admissions process, abandoning guidelines that called on universities to consider race as a way of promoting diversity, the Wall Street Journal and New York Times reported on Tuesday.
The guidelines, put in place under President Barack Obama in 2011 and 2016, presented legal recommendations that Trump administration officials contend “mislead schools to believe that legal forms of affirmative action are simpler to achieve than the law allows,” the Journal reported, citing two people familiar with the plans.
The officials plan to argue the guidelines go beyond what the Supreme Court has decided on the issue, according to the Journal, which first reported the plan.
The New York Times, citing unidentified Trump administration officials, said the new plan would do away with the existing policies and encourage schools not to consider race. The policy represents the official view of the federal government and schools that do not follow it could face action from the Justice Department or lose federal funding, it said.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled universities may use affirmative action to help minority applicants get into college. Conservatives have said such programs can hurt white people and Asian-Americans.
The Justice Department under Republican President Donald Trump has been investigating a complaint by more than 60 Asian-American organizations that say Harvard University’s policies are discriminatory because they limit the acceptance of Asian-Americans.
The department joined Students for Fair Admissions, the group behind the case, which has urged the disclosure of “powerful” evidence showing that Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Harvard is violating Title VI of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act. Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.
Harvard says its admissions policies comply with U.S. laws and that it has worked to boost financial aid to ensure economic, as well as racial, diversity in its classes.
The White House and Justice Department did not reply to a request for comment on the Journal report.
Vanita Gupta, who led Justice’s civil rights division under Democrat Obama, criticized the decision.
“This guidance restated the law and our national commitment to diversity. The retraction reflects that the DOJ no longer has that commitment,” she wrote in a Twitter post.
Her former colleague, Anurima Bhargava, who was head of the department’s civil rights enforcement under Obama, was cited by the Wall Street Journal as saying: “The law on this hasn’t changed, and the Supreme Court has twice ruled reaffirming the importance of diversity.”
“This is a purely political attack that benefits nobody,” she told the Journal.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Alistair Bell)