Ohio universities could be impacted if affirmative action targeted

UD, Wright State don’t take race into account in admissions process

If the Trump administration targets race-conscious college admissions, policies at several of Ohio’s universities could be more closely scrutinized.

The United State’s Justice Department’s civil rights division may begin shifting its resources to investigate and sue universities over affirmative action admissions policies that are deemed discriminatory against white applicants, according to an internal document obtained by The New York Times.

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The document states that the administration is seeking attorneys interested in working on "investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions," The Times reported. The start of the investigations could begin later this month as lawyers interested were asked to apply by Aug. 9, according to the document obtained by The Times.

Despite the document, no official announcement has been made by the Justice Department on whether it will target affirmative action in college admissions.

Neither the University of Dayton nor Wright State University use race in a factor in admissions decisions but Miami University and Ohio State University both do.

News that affirmative action may become the target of federal scrutiny gave pause to Michael Kabbaz, Miami senior vice president of enrollment and student success. Kabbaz said he went so far as to check in with Miami’s legal team Wednesday morning about the university’s use of affirmative action.

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“We’re all trying to figure out what this means going forward,” Kabbaz said. “Certainly when something like this comes out it deeply concerns us because we don’t know what to expect.”

The news will likely mean more conversation and collaboration between universities in how to best use race-conscious admissions process, Kabbaz said.

Although Kabbaz was at first unsure what to make of the news, it drew both criticism and praise from national figures.

Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, released a statement on Tuesday accusing the Justice Department of “laying the groundwork to attack” policies that promote racial diversity. Roger Clegg, a former official in the Ronald Reagan administration told The Times that the development was “long overdue.”

Although Miami University and OSU take race into account when deciding which students to accept, it’s illegal for race to be the only factor or the deciding factor in college admissions.

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The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that race can be one of many admissions factors allowed because of the benefits that result in having a diverse student body. But, the court has also ruled that racial quotas are not permitted.

Using race as an admissions consideration is just one way Miami tries to create a diverse student body, Kabbaz said.

Among other factors, Miami also considers the economic backgrounds of students and both Miami and Ohio State take into account whether an applicant is a first-generation college student. Although UD doesn’t use race as a factor in admissions, the school tries to recruit diverse students and employees, said Jason Reinoehl, UD vice president for strategic enrollment management.

The use of affirmative action in admissions is also a necessary tool for colleges that have to be more selective because they don’t have the capacity to accept all the students who apply.

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That’s true for OSU, which received nearly 45,000 applications last year, and for Miami, which got around 30,000 applications for last year. In contrast, UD received around 17, 500 applications and WSU received just under 5,900, according to The Princeton Review.

The main reason UD doesn’t use affirmative action is because the school doesn’t have as much of a capacity constraint as Miami or OSU, Reinoehl said.

“As a matter of practice it doesn’t impact our admissions process,” Reinoehl said. “In a nutshell we don’t have the constraints a lot of institutions have in terms of capacity. If we have two qualified students, we’re going to accept both of them.”


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