Texas Tech Health Sciences Center has agreed to stop using race when considering applicants to its medical school, bowing to pressure as the Trump administration campaigns to curtail the use of affirmative action in education.
The action is the first of its kind under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and signals the approach her agency plans to take with other schools.
The department’s Office for Civil Rights has investigations underway into the use of race in admissions at Yale and Harvard universities. Those cases question whether Asian-American applicants are being discriminated against in admissions.
Last year, DeVos revoked Obama-era guidance that offered schools a road map on how they could legally consider race in the interest of promoting diversity.
In the deal, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center agreed to stop using race altogether in admissions.
Liz Hill, an Education Department spokeswoman, emphasized that the agency was not insisting the school stop using race completely, but that it abide by limits established by the Supreme Court. Hill said the school opted on its own to stop the use of race altogether, and the agreement with the university specifies that the school may notify the Education Department if it wants to resume the use of race or national origin for review in limited circumstances.
The original investigation of Texas Tech Health Sciences, in Lubbock, Texas, was opened in 2005 in response to a complaint from Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity, which opposes affirmative action. The complaint was prompted by the university’s announcement that it planned to consider race in admissions, Clegg said.
Clegg welcomed the agreement and argued that it will put pressure on other schools to stop using race in admissions decisions.
“It shows again that the Trump administration is serious about enforcing the civil rights laws so that they forbid discrimination against all racial and ethnic groups, and will not turn a blind eye toward politically correct racial discrimination in the way the Obama administration did,” he said.
The voluntary agreement with the university was signed in February. The school agreed to inform staff of the change by March 1 and said it would remove material referencing race and national origin as admission factors by September.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that universities may consider race in admission decisions to create a diverse class but said the programs must be narrowly tailored to pass judicial scrutiny.
The agreement with Texas Tech Health Sciences Center was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. A representative for the school did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
The Health Sciences Center comprises five schools, and the Office for Civil Rights investigated use of race at all of them. It concluded that only the medical school was using race as a factor in admissions.
In a letter explaining its decision, the civil rights office said race was one factor among many considered. Others included were whether the applicant would be a first generation college graduate, multilingual proficiency, community involvement and life circumstances while attending school.
The medical school told investigators that “a diverse student body enhances the learning environment, but that it does not have a set number or quota of students from underrepresented groups to be admitted.”
Clegg filed a similar complaint against the admissions program at Texas Tech University. Both entities are part of the Texas Tech University System. The Office for Civil Rights concluded in November that the school was no longer considering race in its admissions decisions and dismissed that complaint.