Our D.C. bureau Colleges say guideline shift won’t change them
WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump’s new race-neutral stance on school admission carries little weight with Connecticut universities, many of whom say they remain intent on diversifying.
The president rescinded Obama-era guidelines earlier this week that permitted university officials to consider race in their admissions decisions. Some officials and experts in Connecticut said the reversal is more of a political ploy than a real shake-up among admissions offices.
While the move could affect how discrimination complaints are handled for schools at the federal level, the Supreme Court has already set legal precedent for factoring race into admissions decisions.
“This sad, politically motivated decision is yet another attack on civil rights and basic human decency from the Trump administration and it will have a real impact on the ability of deserving students to access a quality education,” Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said.
The administration’s announcement comes on the heels of discrimination complaints against elite institutions such as Harvard and Yale which could change how such grievances are handled on the federal level.
Trump put his imprint on the long-standing controversy over the role of race in college admissions on Tuesday, one week shy of announcing a Supreme Court pick and five months ahead of a midterm election.
Nuances of getting in
Aside from the University of Bridgeport, whose admissions office already has a race-blind admission policy in place, officials at several Connecticut universities said Trump’s announcement would have little impact on their decisions.
“(UB) receives applications from ... a racially diverse group of students,” said Karissa Peckham, that school’s vice president of enrollment management. “So we don’t currently need to consider race in making our admissions decisions to promote diversity on campus. We are a pretty racially diverse campus.”
Stephanie Reitz, a spokeswoman for the University of Connecticut, said the school is “accessing the impact” of the repealed guidelines, but that officials are still following admissions policies guided by Supreme Court rulings.
At Fairfield University, Susan Cipollaro, the associate director of media relations, said officials admit students “without discrimination based on race, color, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or ethnicity.”
“While a student’s academic record is a critical element of the entire admission application, we are also interested in the personal qualities, talents and interests that prospective students will bring to our campus community,” she said.
Lauren Rubenstein, the manager of media and public relations at Wesleyan University in Middletown, said that while Trump’s decision wasn’t surprising, “it does not change the law” that allows schools to continue accounting race into admissions decisions.
“Wesleyan University will continue to use our nuanced, holistic admissions procedures, which act affirmatively on our core priorities and values — including diversity,” Rubenstein said.
Experts in admissions and government policy echoed those remarks, saying public universities might not be affected at all under the coverage of Supreme Court rulings.
Art Coleman, co-founder of Education Counsel — an education consulting firm based in Washington — said Trump’s announcement would have little effect on how university officials consider race in admissions because court rulings preside over the president’s changes.
In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled in Fisher v. University of Texas that schools could continue to use racial diversity as a factor in admissions.
“While (Trump’s guideline revision) may signal some policy difference, it can’t take away legal protections that (have existed) on the legal front for decades,” Coleman said.
But Gary Rose, a political scientist at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, said public schools might have to modify their affirmative action policies now that Trump has replaced Obama’s guidelines.
If schools don’t comply with Trump’s changes, their federal funding could dwindle, he said.
“They have to soften affirmative action policies,” Rose said. “It can’t be as explicit as it once was, but it can exist as a soft policy.”
Rose added that the repealed guidelines likely won’t affect SHU because “the emphasis is more on state institutions” that cater to larger class sizes than his private school’s smaller niche.
Deb Noack, the director of communication at Sacred Heart, mirrored Rose’s remark, saying the school won’t be affected by Trump’s decision and would continue to use a “personalized” admissions process.
Staff writer Linda Conner Lambeck contributed to this story.