Administration offers guidance on affirmative action

The Obama administration on Tuesday issued guidance to universities in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling last week that found colleges can prohibit the use of racial considerations in university admissions.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter, top officials at the Education and Justice departments said that elementary and secondary schools and universities can use “legally permissible methods” when trying to create racially diverse schools.

Here is the full text of the letter, released Tuesday morning:

“Dear Colleague:

“We are writing to confirm that the decision of the United States Supreme Court issued on April 22, 2014 in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, et al., leaves intact the Court’s prior holdings recognizing that institutions of higher education and elementary and secondary schools may use all legally permissible methods to achieve their diversity goals. These include, absent any restrictions in state law, appropriately tailored programs that consider the race of individual applicants as one of several factors in an individualized process to achieve the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.

“The Departments of Education and Justice strongly support diversity in elementary, secondary, and higher education, because racially diverse educational environments help to prepare students to succeed in our increasingly diverse nation. The educational benefits of diversity, long recognized by the Court and affirmed in research and practice, include cross-racial understanding and dialogue, the reduction of racial isolation, and the breaking down of racial stereotypes. Furthermore, to be successful, the future workforce of America should transcend the boundaries of race, language, and culture as our economy becomes more globally interconnected.

“In 2011, the Departments issued “Guidance on the Voluntary Use of Race to Achieve Diversity in Postsecondary Education” and the related “Guidance on the Voluntary Use of Race to Achieve Diversity and Avoid Racial Isolation in Elementary and Secondary Schools.” Additionally, in 2013, after the Supreme Court issued its decision in the Fisher case, we issued further guidance in the form of “Questions and Answers about Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.” All three guidance documents remain in effect after the Schuette decision and are available at www.ed.gov and www.usdoj.gov. In a state with a provision like the one in effect in Michigan, which was upheld in Schuette, you should consult with an appropriate legal official, such as your State’s attorney general, with regard to your institution’s or agency’s ability to take actions consistent with these guidance documents.

“We appreciate your interest in these matters and your commitment to help students succeed. Our offices stand ready to provide technical assistance should you or your colleagues need it on this important topic.”

Lyndsey Layton has been covering national education since 2011, writing about everything from parent trigger laws to poverty’s impact on education to the shifting politics of school reform.
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