By George Leef
Elections certainly have consequences. Whereas the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) under the Obama administration pushed a sexual assault agenda that forced colleges into using patently unfair techniques for assessing guilt, under Trump, the OCR has stopped that and is actively pursuing something very different. The Trump OCR is enforcing the law against the use of racial preferences in college admissions.
It supported the case brought against Harvard by Students for Fair Admissions, which the judge has yet to decide, and most recently weighed in to force Texas Tech’s medical school to agree to stop using race as a consideration in admissions.
The suit against Texas Tech has a long history. It was brought by the Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO) back in 2004. Roger Clegg, general counsel of CEO, explains the origin of the case in this National Review article, writing: Our complaint was filed when, after the Supreme Court had issued its 2003 decisions narrowly upholding the use of racial-admission preferences in some circumstances, Texas Tech announced that it would begin considering race, notwithstanding the fact that it had not been doing so and had achieved plenty of racial and ethnic diversity nonetheless. In our view, since the Court made clear that race was not to be used except as a last resort, Texas Tech’s announced new policy was unjustifiable.”
Over the years, most of the university dropped the use of racial preferences and by 2018, the Medical School was the only holdout. This year, with the Department of Education putting its weight into the battle, the school agreed to stop using race as a factor in its admission decisions. An important aspect of the case was that under the Supreme Court’s rulings on the use of race, colleges and universities are supposed to regularly review their policies to see if they could achieve “diversity” without resorting to group preferences for certain races. Texas Tech had not done so.
To avoid further legal trouble with the federal government, Texas Tech’s Medical School entered into a Resolution Agreement with the Education Department under which it pledges not to use race in deciding which students to admit.
Eric Bentley, vice chancellor of the Texas Tech University system responded to the agreement by giving a predictable defense of racial preferences in this Inside Higher Ed story. He is quoted as saying, “The university strongly believes that diversity in academic medicine is not only necessary at the medical school, but is a necessity nationally as well.”
That assertion is standard among university officials who delight in playing at social engineering. But what matters to each individual patient is not how “diverse” the medical profession as a whole is, but rather how competent the doctor treating him or her is. If Mr. Bentley needed heart surgery, he wouldn’t be concerned with the demographic “balance” in the medical profession, but instead with securing the services of the best surgeon available. The surgeon’s race wouldn’t matter.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court has, hesitatingly, approved of racial preferences if they lead to “educational benefits.” The claim is that the learning environment of a college is somehow improved if students of different races are in the student body. That’s a poor enough argument for undergraduate institutions, but exceedingly weak for a medical school. There aren’t any racial “perspectives” on medical problems and treatments. Medical schools should drop preferences and just admit the most qualified applicants.
This case is important for two reasons.
First, it shows that the Trump administration is serious about enforcing the Supreme Court’s very narrow approval of racial preferences, which are permissible only if “narrowly tailored” and are used as a last resort. Many colleges and universities have continued to use admission policies that amount to racial quota systems, hoping that if they’re sued, friendly judges will find reasons to approve their policies. Having the Education Department as an opponent of race preferences changes the game.
Second, as Clegg observes in his article, the more schools that don’t use race, the harder it becomes for others to maintain that they must. And his conclusion is right on target: “As objectionable as the use of racial preferences is in any context, it is especially disturbing when non-meritocratic political correctness is used to choose people who will have literally life-and-death responsibilities.”