Smith responds to Department of Justice’s affirmative action probe
Sunnie Ni Ying ‘18
Smith told The Sophian the college remains dedicated to its affirmative action policies amidst the Department of Justice’s plan to investigate and sue universities over such admission policies which allegedly discriminate against white students.
In early August, The New York Times obtained an internal announcement of the Department of Justice to the civil rights division. The document discussed placing more resources on “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.”
Although the document does not contain language that explicitly indicates that it intends to target affirmative action admissions policies, it uses the phrase “intentional race-based discrimination,” which addresses a contention of the program that is designed to bring more minority students to university campuses.
In recent years, affirmative action has received national attention due to its controversy. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VI”) prohibits discrimination by race, color and national origin. But affirmative action goes beyond the elimination of discrimination and actively aims to increase the number of minority employees or students to bring an end to previous discriminatory practices. The opponents of affirmative action policy argue that it unfairly discriminates against the majority group.
Because of this controversy and its legal implications, higher education institutions generally avoid using the term “affirmative action” to describe their admission policy, referring to race consideration as part of a “holistic” assessment of applicants.
Legal disputes on affirmative action continue to rise to the surface. The most recent case, Fisher v. University of Texas, reached the Supreme Court last year. The Court rejected the challenge to a race-conscious admissions program at the University of Texas at Austin, handing supporters of affirmative action a major victory.
But several pending lawsuits are challenging similar practices at other higher education institutions, including Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. The Department of Justice has not committed to a position in these cases. It is likely that the Department of Justice would not take a favorable position to these institutions.
Smith College has embraced a race-conscious admission program. In Dec. 2015, Smith signed two amicus briefs in support of the University of Texas in the Supreme Court case. The two briefs argue that private, highly-selective colleges have a compelling educational interest in enrolling broadly diverse (including racially-diverse) classes and that the educational goals are consistent with efforts to advance economic success.
Katherine Rowe, the Interim Vice President for Inclusion, Diversity and Equity, told The Sophian via email that the college “remains committed to Smith’s policies on affirmative action and inclusion.” Smith College’s Equal Educational Opportunity Policy states “diversity in all aspects of the educational environment is necessary to achieve the highest level of academic excellence.”
Rowe also said “Smith supports the consideration of race in admission in the context of a holistic admission review, which looks at all aspects of the student applicant.” She stressed that such as policy is different than affirmative action.