DAVID GREENE, HOST:
All right. The Trump administration has ordered the medical school at Texas Tech University to stop using race as a factor in admissions. And now one question is whether this case has broader implications for affirmative action in this country. This is the first time the administration has made this kind of demand of a school, and it comes after a 14-year federal investigation of Texas Tech's use of affirmative action. Michelle Hackman covers national education policy for The Wall Street Journal. She got access to documents detailing an agreement between the university's medical school and the Department of Education. She's with us this morning.
MICHELLE HACKMAN: Thanks for having me.
GREENE: So what exactly did the administration conclude here that has them making this demand?
HACKMAN: So there are two requirements if you want to use affirmative action. The first one is that your use of race when you're picking, you know, students in admissions is that it's very narrowly used. It's one factor in many. And the other is that you do regular checks. And colleges - most colleges have interpreted this to mean annual checks that race is really a factor that's uniquely helpful in sort of achieving the type of diversity that you want in a campus; that you can't use race-neutral factors like, you know, a person's income, whether someone's bilingual, things like that. And they found that Texas Tech, the medical school, had not been doing these annual checks. And so it was unclear whether their use of race was really necessary the way that they're saying it was.
GREENE: So what happens now? Is the school basically saying, yes, we weren't doing these checks, we're wrong and we're going to cooperate and stop using race?
HACKMAN: That's right. So what they signed with the Education Department is called a resolution agreement where they say we agree to stop using race to come into compliance with your view of anti-discrimination law. Now, I think what's remarkable about that is that the Education Department sort of - you know, their enforcement was that they wanted the school to immediately stop using race rather than sort of conduct the analysis that they hadn't done.
GREENE: Remind me of the broader context here because, I mean, hasn't the Supreme Court ruled several times that schools can use affirmative action if they want to increase diversity?
GREENE: So why do these legal challenges keep happening?
HACKMAN: So, you know, proponents of affirmative action would say that. They'd say the Supreme Court has said several times that race is permissible, that it's important, in fact, if you want to be able to achieve diversity. But in the 2016 case - so this was Fisher v. the University of Texas - the decision sort of left an opening for legal challenges. They said you have to do these sort of regular checks to make sure it's still necessary. And we've seen the Trump administration really lean into that and say, you know, we want this to be as narrowly tailored as possible. Last July, they actually rolled back this guidance that was almost like a roadmap that the Obama administration had created to say here's how you can use affirmative action legally. So the Trump administration took that away, sort of signaling that they were going to go ahead and try to enforce affirmative - you know, not using affirmative action as strongly as they possibly could.
GREENE: Well - and the administration is investigating policies at other places like Harvard, Yale. I mean, could this be the administration just getting started here?
HACKMAN: So I think the specifics of this case are unique to the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center. That's, you know, the larger school where the medical school's housed. But the administration does have, you know, civil rights investigations open at Harvard, at Yale, over their use of affirmative action - those cases specifically looking at Asian-American students. And so it's a question whether we'll see them continuing to enforce this really strict, narrow view of affirmative action at those schools or, you know, at possibly other schools where they could open investigations. I think it puts those schools on notice.
GREENE: Michelle Hackman covers national education policy at The Wall Street Journal.
Thanks a lot.
HACKMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.