Los Angeles, CA – Please attribute the following statement on reports that the Department of Justice is planning to investigate college and university affirmative action admissions policies to Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund):
“Whether the Department of Justice intends to support filed complaints challenging affirmative action or it intends to initiate its own challenges, today’s news is an unwise deviation from the recent and traditional role of the federal government. For over 40 years – beginning just as the civil rights movement was successfully confronting discriminatory barriers to university admission – the right-wing fringe has attempted to increase the longstanding underrepresentation of minority students in flagship universities around the country by challenging efforts to adjust for biased admissions criteria and for unequal opportunity in the educational pipeline through affirmative action. In 2017, these ongoing efforts cannot be separated from their segregationist, retrenchment roots. An attorney general like Jeff Sessions should be particularly careful about association with the extreme right campaign against affirmative action.
Despite this ongoing fringe-led campaign, the United States Supreme Court has thrice upheld narrowly-tailored race-conscious admissions programs in the last decade and a half. It has done so because the law recognizes the importance of diversity – of being educated in classrooms that reflect the world in which we live and in which students will be expected to lead. This is a recognition shared by most students and parents today.
The reported potential change in the Justice Department’s approach is doubly troubling given the Administration’s ongoing withdrawal from playing any significant role in ensuring equal educational opportunity in the educational pipeline through a vibrant Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education. The damage of this abdication would be multiplied if the Justice Department were to then take a position opposing efforts at universities to adjust for unequal opportunity in assessing the future potential of applicants for admission.
The significant underrepresentation of Latinos and African Americans in flagship universities is not a matter of these groups’ students ‘choosing’ less lucrative options for post-high school life than students of other races – as many right-wing fantasists would have us believe – or a result of genetic differences in potential within these communities – as closeted neo-eugenicists actually believe. Underrepresentation is a result of biased admissions criteria, unequal K-12 educational opportunity, and the continuing effects of implicit bias. The federal government has a responsibility to address these issues, and not to implicitly endorse some unspoken neo-eugenicist ideological fantasy.”