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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

DOJ, DOE offer new road map for attaining diversity

Published: December 9, 2011
Section: News

The Obama administration released new guidelines this week detailing its interpretation of the law, under a series Supreme Court cases, on affirmative action and race-based admissions decisions in college admissions.

The open memo by the federal Departments of Justice and Education replaces the version by the George W. Bush administration that denounced the use of race as an explicit factor—and thus changes the posture of the federal government in terms of lawsuits it would be willing to file or support if a college did use race as a factor in admissions.

Instead, the Obama executive branch now encourages other means or leeway in between the lines of the Supreme Court decisions to achieve more campus and accepted student diversity.

It is now the government’s view that “learning environments comprised of students from diverse backgrounds provide an enhanced educational experience for individual students,” and that “interacting with students who have different perspectives and life experiences can raise the level of academic and social discourse both inside and outside the classroom; indeed, such interaction is an education in itself.”

Brandeis University officials referred interview requests and questions to Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel. Flagel did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

The guidance goes on, “By choosing to create this kind of rich academic environment, educational institutions help students sharpen their critical thinking and analytical skills.”

The memo suggests schools could, for instance, give favorable admissions points to preselected high schools that could account for, among other factors, “racial composition of the school’s student body.”

In this way, schools could “broaden their applicant pools and thus increase their percentage of underrepresented groups. While recruitment and outreach efforts do not guarantee or increase the likelihood of admission for any applicant, efforts that are more inclusive can assist post-secondary institutions to increase the diversity of their applicant pools.”

The Obama administration also suggested a range of other tactics beyond admissions that are not opposed to Bush interpretations but just show a marked commitment to achieving better racial diversity on college campuses.

Schools should sponsor mentorship and retention programs to keep students who are in danger of not finishing or fulfilling their program’s requirements (a statistic especially high among minority groups).

The new guidelines also suggest that when openly trying to increase race-based admissions, schools reassert the “compelling state interest” states and schools have in diversity in higher education. That type of state interest is code in Supreme Court jurisprudence for something that meets the constitutional standard and is acceptable affirmative action.

Critics of such plans call the system unfair to individual applicants and worry about the use of “quotas.”