WASHINGTON — The Trump administration said Tuesday the government would no longer encourage schools to use race as a factor in the admissions process, rescinding Obama-era guidance meant to promote diversity among students.
The shift gives colleges the federal government's blessing to leave race out of admissions and enrollment decisions and underscores the contentious politics that for decades surrounded affirmation action policies, which have repeatedly been challenged before the Supreme Court.
The Obama administration memos encouraging schools to take race into account were among 24 policy documents revoked by the Justice Department for being "unnecessary, outdated, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper." Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the changes an effort to restore the "rule of law," though civil rights groups decried the move and some universities said they intended to continue their diversity efforts as before.
The actions comes amid a high-profile court fight over Harvard University admissions that has attracted the government's attention, as well as Supreme Court turnover expected to produce a more critical eye toward schools' race-conscious admissions policies.
The court's most recent significant ruling on the subject bolstered colleges' use of race among many factors in the admission process. But the opinion's author, Anthony Kennedy, announced his retirement last week, giving President Donald Trump a chance to replace him with a justice who may be more reliably skeptical of admissions programs that take race and ethnicity into account.
The new policy dramatically departs from the stance of the Obama administration, which said schools could consider race in admissions decisions. In one 2011 policy document, the administration said courts had recognized schools' "compelling interest" in ensuring racially diverse populations on campuses.
"Institutions are not required to implement race-neutral approaches if, in their judgment, the approaches would be unworkable," the guidance said. "In some cases, race-neutral approaches will be unworkable because they will be ineffective to achieve the diversity the institution seeks."
That guidance has now been rescinded, as have about a half-dozen similar documents, including some that sought to explain court rulings affirming the use of race to make admissions decisions.
In one such document, the Obama administration stated, "As the Supreme Court has recognized, diversity has benefits for all students, and today's students must be prepared to succeed in a diverse society and an increasingly global workforce."
The Trump administration's announcement is more in line with Bush-era policy that discouraged affirmative action and instead encouraged the use of race-neutral alternatives, like percentage plans and economic diversity programs.
Though such guidance doesn't have the force of law, schools could presumably use it to defend themselves against lawsuits over admission policies.
The Trump administration's Justice Department already had signaled concern about the use of race in admissions decisions.
The department, for instance, sided this year with Asian-American plaintiffs who contend in a lawsuit against Harvard that the school unlawfully limits how many Asian students are admitted.
Students for Fair Admissions, the group suing Harvard, is led by Ed Blum, a legal strategist who also helped white student Abigail Fisher sue the University of Texas for alleged discrimination in a case that reached the Supreme Court.
Blum said Tuesday the organization "welcomes any governmental actions that will eliminate racial classifications and preferences in college admissions." Harvard, meanwhile, said it would continue considering race as an admissions factor to create a "diverse campus community where students from all walks of life have the opportunity to learn with and from each other."
Civil rights groups criticized the Trump administration's announcement, saying it went against decades of court precedent permitting colleges to take race into account.
"We condemn the Department of Education's politically motivated attack on affirmative action and deliberate attempt to discourage colleges and universities from pursuing racial diversity at our nation's colleges and universities," Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement.
Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, said "affirmative action has proven to be one of the most effective ways to create diverse and inclusive classrooms." She said the announcement underscored the stakes surrounding the upcoming Supreme Court appointment.
City staff are looking at updating Flagstaff’s regional plan to put it in line with the initiative passed during the last election to create a “Greater Buffalo Park” by protecting large swaths of land on McMillan Mesa.
The proposition, which was overwhelmingly passed by the public, drastically changed the future of McMillan Mesa. This is because in the city’s reginal plan, which passed with a large majority of support, much of the land had been slated for eventual suburban housing development.
“The land use scenarios between these two things do not match at all, so this is what we’re trying to resolve through this major plan amendment,” said Sara Dechter, the city’s comprehensive planning manager.
The proposed amendment to the reginal plan would let the city officially zone all the land set aside by Proposition 413 for open space uses. This includes the area north of Forest Avenue on the slope below the USGS and NACET complexes, which is currently zoned for industrial or business uses and some of the land around what Proposition 413 officially set aside as more open space.
These additions are, for the most part, undevelopable because of their size. A section of the Flagstaff Urban Trail System is also proposed to be rezoned into open space. This was originally zoned for suburban housing, but as it is part of FUTS and will not have houses on it, the city may as well include it as open space Dechter said.
The city is also in the process of developing the management plan for the area, which would govern what the land is used for. For the last month, the city has been soliciting public comments via an online survey on what the public would like to see the land used for and what they are most concerned about.
The public comments period for the management plan ended on June 29, and the city is now compiling all of the comments and incorporating them into a draft plan. The draft is due to be presented before the Open Space commission by the end of August, said Robert Wallace, the open space specialist for the city.
Prior to the passage of Proposition 413, the city also had a few plans regarding public infrastructure improvements on the mesa. And if council approves them, some of these plans still could go forward.
At least one of these, a road connection on Ponderosa Parkway on the southernmost edge of the mesa, will go forward. The area is not within the land affected by Proposition 413 and the road is required in order to provide secondary fire access to the area and to the recently built Fire Station 2.
The city was also looking to replace the sewage system that services USGS. At the moment the system uses a pressure system but the city would like to replace that system with a gravity sewer.
Pressure systems are generally more costly and less reliable than gravity systems. Because after the construction of this new system, all the infrastructure would be below ground, there is a chance that this also may still be built. But the city has also been asked by members of the public to look into how costly the current system really is, or if it could be built in an already disturbed area such as the FUTS connection between Buffalo Park and North Turquoise Drive.
All projects would have to go before council prior to moving forward. There is a 60-day public comment period for the public to influence what the city should take into account if these plans are ever resurrected by council.
Lastly, the city water division is also in the first phase of a search for Flagstaff’s next in-town water sources. A geological study undertaken by the city found that two fault lines cross the mesa, which could offer opportunities for drilling wells for groundwater. These fault lines, however, also cross other pieces of city-owned property and new directional drilling technology could allow the city to drill for the same water from other locations.
“It’s really conceptual right now,” Dechter said.
And the open space also benefits the city in other ways, including increasing the amount of land that recharges the city’s groundwater. One thing Proposition 413 highlighted, Dechter said, is how the city looks at the value of natural resources around Flagstaff.
At the moment, the city does a good job at mapping and protecting certain kinds of natural resources -- large stands of ponderosa pines, for example -- but not other kinds such as fault lines or grasslands such as the ones found in Buffalo Park and the newly protected natural area.
City staff may look at revising and improving the ways that they map and keep track of these natural resources, Dechter said.
The proposal is expected to be before council before the end of the year.
BOSTON — In these complex times, a simple question about the quintessential American holiday of fireworks, cookouts and parades isn't always so simple.
As Americans prepare to celebrate the nation's 242nd birthday, some feel a deeper sense of patriotism. For others, the social issues roiling the country weigh heavy this Independence Day.
Standing in front of Boston's Faneuil Hall on Tuesday, tour guide Cara McIntyre said she takes special pride this time of the year in recounting the courage of American colonists like Samuel Adams, who called for rebellion against the English crown in fiery speeches at the historic hall.
But she laments that Americans' ability to respectfully debate the toughest issues of the day — to disagree without being disagreeable — seems hopelessly lost.
"This bitter divisiveness of the last decade, I think the Founding Fathers would be really sad about that," said the 57-year-old Massachusetts native as she greeted passers-by in her floral-print, colonial-era dress. "Social media has made bullies of all of us. People say things there that they'd never say to someone's face."
In Chicago, Philip Wiley, a 77-year-old retired public school counselor, is blunt about what's ailing the nation.
"A lot of it has to do with the present administration in Washington," Wiley said as he stopped to admire a massive flag hanging from the city's iconic Wrigley Building Tuesday.
But in Alabama, retired truck driver Floyd Champion is downright upbeat. He views these as the best of times in America.
Champion plans to mark the holiday the way he spends most days — selling watermelons, tomatoes, corn, plums and other produce from the back of his truck along a highway about 30 miles south of Birmingham, Alabama.
"I know it's a big holiday and I love the holiday because it's our independence," said Champion, 77, of rural Shelby County. "But I have to sell this stuff, and I make money."
Out in Anchorage, Alaska, Darl Schaaff says July Fourth should be a time for a deeply divided nation to put personal politics aside.
"This is not about politics," he said as took a break from helping set up the city's downtown celebration. "This is about the founding of our country and freedom."
Vietnam War veteran and retired U.S. Air Force Col. Thomas Moe, in Lancaster, Ohio, said the holiday should be a day to appreciate the differences that make the nation great.
"At a time when we seem to be at each other's throats more than ever, I think we need to step back a little bit," said the 74-year -old, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war and later served as director of the Ohio Department of Veterans Services. "We could be like Venezuela, or Russia or China, where everybody on the surface says or thinks the same thing, and we never want to go that way."
In Portland, Maine, chef Brad Messier agreed with the sentiments, but said the country's tribalism is too great to ignore.
"This is a holiday that, in theory, brings us together as a country but, in reality, we're still camped out on our two very separate sides," Messier said as he manned a booth selling strawberries and other produce at a downtown Portland farmers' market. "For me, it seems to illustrate the glaring divides that we have. What we come together for is very superficial. How much does going and seeing fireworks really bring people together?"
But in New York, 32-year-old Baudel Ivan Osorio Herrera could only feel gratitude to his new nation.
The father of two boys, who came to the Bronx from Mexico when he was just seven, was one of 200 immigrants taking their citizenship oath at New York City's Public Library on Tuesday.
The timing of the momentous occasion wasn't lost on him.
"I have my kids. I have my home," Herrera said. "You could say we made our dream come true."