Media reports have stated that the Justice Department under President Donald Trump is planning to investigate a complaint of discrimination against Harvard University brought by a coalition of Asian-American groups.
From our perspective as scholars who study affirmative action, race and diversity in higher education, the complaint reflects a flawed understanding of race-conscious education policies like affirmative action.
How do affirmative action policies work, and whom do they affect?
Let’s first look at the legal wrangling that has been going on for some time on this issue. Since the 1978 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case, the Supreme Court consistently has affirmed that under certain conditions (e.g., no numerical set-asides or quotas, diversity is a compelling interest) it is constitutional for institutions of higher education to consider a student’s race in admissions processes.
Most recently, in a landmark judgment on June 23, 2016, the US Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of race-conscious affirmative action in university admissions in the Abigail Fisher case.