Editorial: Jeff Sessions and Affirmative Action


Jeff Sessions as the affirmative action Keebler elf. Original art by Omari Lewis 2017.

Editorial Board

The Trump administration has announced its plans to investigate or probe universities using affirmative action, claiming that the policies discriminate against white applicants. This is an effort led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to pander to a conservative base with whom he has been on shaky ground since recusing himself from the Russia investigation back in March.

According to the Washington Post, the proposed investigation may be run by politically appointed members of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, instead of the Education Opportunities Section of the division. A letter to Sessions and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, signed by California senator Dianne Feinstein among other Democrats, points out that “such a move suggests this is a political maneuver designed to circumvent DOJ operating procedures and career attorneys, and that DOJ may be considering launching an attack on racial diversity and inclusion in higher education.”

Affirmative action has been ruled legal by the Supreme Court, barring universities do not use a quota system, which saw its end in the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case of 1978, nor points, which was ended by the Gratz v. Bollinger case of 2003.

After the 1996 passage of Proposition 209, prohibiting affirmative action in California state schools, UC Berkeley saw “the number of African American, Chicano/Latino, and Native American/Alaska Native undergraduate students at UC Berkeley drop by half.”  In the university’s fall 2013 Diversity Snapshot they explicitly state that the the gap was caused in no small part by Prop 209.

In 2003 Supreme Court Justice Sandra O’Connor wrote in the Grutter vs Bollinger case opinion that affirmative action is needed for now but that need would fade in time. Justice O’ Connor said that, overtime, affirmative action would no longer be necessary for promoting diversity on campuses. But we are not exactly there yet – O’Connor saw that in 2003 and it remains true 14 years later.

Trump’s base believes affirmative action discriminates against white people because of “economic anxiety.” But it is not the time nor the political climate to be attacking affirmative action. Jeff Sessions and the DOJ should keep its efforts of stopping discrimination under the nonpartisan Education Opportunities section of the Civil Rights Division.

There is still equality in higher education among non-white students to be had. Universities, both public and private, should pursue policies that increase representation and racial diversity.

~ Fall 2017 Editorial Board