Texas Tech University has agreed to stop using race as a factor in admission to its medical school after the Trump administration pressured the university—and others—to end the use of affirmative action. The president of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center signed an explicit agreement in February eliminating the use of affirmative action in response to a complaint lodged by the Center for Equal Opportunity, an anti-affirmative action group, more than a decade ago. The move is the first of its kind in response to Department of Education directives under Secretary Betsy DeVos, who last year walked back the department’s Obama-era instruction to colleges on how to legally factor in race in admissions.
The Supreme Court has previously affirmed colleges’ ability to factor in race in higher education admissions under specific, tailored conditions. This, however, could be about to change as a handful of cases backed by the Trump Justice Department are making their way through the court system that challenge race-conscious admissions. The suits were brought by Asian American students that allege they had the academic credentials to be admitted but were rejected in the name of diversity, creating an unspoken cap on Asian American students on campus.
Texas Tech’s undergraduate campus eliminated race conscious admissions in 2014 in response to the Center for Equal Opportunity’s complaint, which was filed in 2005. Texas Tech had begun implementing new admissions policies tailored to meet the specifications laid out in a high profile 2003 Supreme Court decision in Grutter v. Bollinger that upheld the University of Michigan Law School’s use of race as a factor for admission. The legal reasoning behind the decision is that the school had a “compelling interest” in a diverse class of students and college community giving it some leeway to consider the race and ethnicity of an applicant. The compelling interest standard is what has underpinned the continued use of affirmative action policies in admissions, but that standard is under renewed scrutiny in the Trump era. With a race-conscious admissions policy, Texas Tech medical school’s Hispanic enrollment jumped from 9 percent in 2004 to 16 percent in 2018. The university said the point of the policy was to do just that: recruit Hispanic to practice medicine in underserved communities in the state.