American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity Denounces Reported Efforts by the Department of Justice to Investigate Affirmative Action Programs at Colleges and Universities
Association of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Professionals finds that the Department's reported anti-affirmative action efforts, if true, would be "unconscionable"
Washington, DC, August 3, 2017- The American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity (AAAED), an organization of equal opportunity, diversity and affirmative action professionals, announced its opposition to the reported plans of the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate colleges and universities seeking to diversify their student bodies.
Founded in 1974 as the American Association for Affirmative Action (AAAA), AAAED is a national not-for-profit association of professionals working in the areas of equal opportunity, compliance and diversity. The longest-serving organization of individuals in the equal opportunity and diversity profession, AAAED has 43 years of leadership providing quality professional training to practitioners and promoting understanding and advocacy of affirmative action and other equal opportunity laws.
According to the New York Times, the Trump Administration is preparing to re-focus the resources of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division to investigate and file lawsuits against colleges and universities that use affirmative action programs "deemed to discriminate against white applicants."
The actual "Detail Opportunity" reportedly states that the Civil Rights Division was seeking attorneys to work with the Office of the Assistant Attorney General on "investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions." This announcement was posted on Twitter by the Center for Investigative Reporting. The Administration has since "explained" that the Department was seeking volunteers to work on a complaint filed by Asian students against Harvard University, not a major policy announcement.
"Notwithstanding this latest 'clarification' by the Administration, it should be stated that student unrest at colleges and universities underscores continuing racial disparities, especially at selective academic institutions," said Shirley J. Wilcher, executive director at AAAED. A study by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce found that this polarization has worsened since the mid-1990s. According to this study, white students accounted for 75 percent of freshman enrollment at colleges in the top three tiers of selectivity, according to Barron's college guide. Only seven percent of freshmen at such colleges were African-American and only eight percent were Hispanic.  "It is these institutions for whom affirmative action is employed as a means of diversifying the student body," Wilcher added.
Recent Supreme Court cases have upheld the limited use of race as a factor in higher education admissions. Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) and Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (2016) underscored the permissibility of race as part of a holistic review of a student's application for admission. These cases also emphasized the benefits to both students of color and white students that flow from having a diverse student body.
Moreover, Fortune 500 companies have repeatedly filed amicus curiae briefs supporting the use of race as a factor in higher education admissions. Their concern is "they won't be able to get the diverse workforce they need unless colleges, business schools, and engineering institutions can take race into account to achieve diversity goals."
"Our concern is that the Department of Justice's purported actions, even on behalf of one group of plaintiffs, could reflect a major policy reversal and could have a serious chilling effect on efforts to promote diversity at selective colleges and universities," said Dr. Myron Anderson, president of AAAED. "That effect could even extend beyond the consideration of race upheld by the Court in Fisher to encompass recruitment and outreach and other efforts aimed at broadening opportunities for socioeconomically disadvantaged students, who are disproportionately non-white."
What is most problematic for AAAED is if the Department invests the resources of the federal government behind efforts to broadly undermine affirmative action programs in admissions. "It is one thing for the government to file a brief for or against the policy, but the purpose of this initiative could be to target entire programs," continued Anderson.
"It is our hope that the Attorney General will not use the Department's limited resources to attack Court-supported diversity programs. Such efforts would be unconscionable, harkening back to the status quo ante 1964, while the nation's student population and the future workforce is becoming increasingly diverse," Wilcher stated.