AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Trump Administration could soon be looking into the University of Texas at Austin over its admission policy. The Justice Department is moving people into a new team to investigate “intentional race-based discrimination” in college admission, according to a New York Times report citing an internal memo to employees in the Department of Justice.
The spokesperson for President Donald Trump, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, told reporters at a White House press briefing that whoever gave that memo to the Times violated DOJ policy, they do not confirm or deny ongoing investigations, but the DOJ would review all instances of discrimination based on race.
Local civil rights groups are worried that could crack down on UT’s policy of using race as a factor in choosing students, through the controversial policy of affirmative action. President of the NAACP in Austin, Nelson Linder, says education is the key weapon to reconcile historical wrongs.
“If you don’t have access to quality education, these disparities, they’re going to continue. If you’re going to stop it, you have to guarantee that folks have educational opportunities,” said Linder. He’s worried the Justice Department will look to end policies that currently help black and Hispanic Texans get into college.
“That’s the government saying we’re going to flip flop on our policies. That should be alarming,” said Linder.
Last year, the Supreme Court upheld UT’s policy of using race as a factor in determining admissions, defeating Abigail Fisher, who sued after she was denied. Fisher, who is white, was not in the top 10 percent of her high school, but argued that race was a major factor in her not receiving admission to UT Austin in 2008. The University stated that including race on applications is not about minority student numbers, but allows for “educational benefits that flow from student body diversity.” The group Students for Fair Admissions backed Fisher in her case and sued UT Austin again under the Texas Constitution in state court.
“It’s not right to inflict one wrong to try and correct for another wrong,” said volunteer executive director Cory Liu for Students for Fair Admissions. He hopes that the Administration files a court brief in their favor. The group is actively fighting universities in court nationwide claiming they limit access to white and Asian students to make room for black and Hispanic students.
“We’re all citizens and we have equal rights. We should have equal opportunity without our government sorting us based on our race,” said Liu.
When asked for a comment on the news from the Department of Justice, UT referred KXAN to President Greg Fenves’ statement on the pending lawsuit.
“The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the university’s admissions policy, affirming the university’s use of race and ethnicity as one factor in our holistic admissions process. The university believes in and will defend our admissions process, which has not changed since the ruling,” wrote Fenves. “UT’s pursuit of excellence is grounded in the university’s public mission to provide the highest quality education for every student. The educational benefits of diversity are essential to carry out that mission and prepare students to work in a competitive, global marketplace.”
This year, the university must automatically admit students in the top 7 percent of their high school class according to state law. That will fill up 75 percent of the slots at UT-Austin. The other 25 percent is filled by the university selecting qualified students based on class rank, test scores, prior coursework, personal achievement, resume, letters of recommendation, race, and ethnicity.