WASHINGTON (AP) — Civil rights groups on Wednesday accused the Trump administration of “changing course on a key civil rights issue” after reports that it was launching a special project to investigate whether college and university admissions programs discriminate against students based on race.
The New York Times reported late Tuesday that a recent internal Justice Department job posting says it is seeking current employees interested in “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.”
Advocacy groups believe the language targets affirmative action programs that allow schools to consider race in pursuit of diversity on campus.
A Justice official told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the notice was a “personnel posting” and not a new policy or program. A spokesman provided no details.
The Education Department declined to comment. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she doesn’t know whether President Donald Trump believes that white college applicants are victims of discrimination, adding that the Justice Department “will always review credible allegations of discrimination on the basis of any race.”
Such a program would mark the Justice Department’s latest effort under Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reshuffle the priorities of the Civil Rights Division, which is not unusual when administrations change. The Trump administration has worked quickly to shift away from its Democratic predecessors in the areas of gay rights, voting rights and investigations of troubled police departments.
Anurima Bhargava, who was head of the Civil Rights Division’s Educational Opportunities Section during the Obama administration, said any move to investigate affirmative action policies would be a “fear and intimidation tactic” because the Supreme Court has upheld such admissions programs.
“My very strong sense is that it’s nothing other than politics,” she said.
Rep. Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat, said he was “deeply concerned” by the reports. “What is already clear is the Trump administration’s public record of attacking civil rights protections on multiple fronts.”
But Roger Clegg, a civil rights official during the Reagan era who now runs the conservative Center for Equal Opportunity, said it was an encouraging sign.
“Anytime a university discriminates on the basis of race it ought to creep people out, and it doesn’t make any difference who’s being discriminated against…