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U.S. Education Department Upholds Standing of Affirmative-Action Policies

Guest post by Andrew Ujifusa

Despite a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld a ban on affirmative action policies at Michigan universities, college and universities elsewhere as well as K-12 schools, can continue to use race-based admissions policies, Obama administration officials said in a letter released this morning.  

That includes "appropriately tailored programs that consider the race of individual applicants as one of several factors in an individualized process to achieve the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body," as long as they don't run afoul of state law, according to a joint letter from the federal education department and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The May 6 letter comes on the heels of the Supreme Court's ruling last month in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action (Case No. 12-682) that upheld a ballot initiative passed by voters that bars Michigan's universities from using race-based preferences in admitting students. The Supreme Court justices voted to uphold that initiative 6-2.

But the "dear colleague" letter, from Assistant Secretary Catherine Lhamon in the U.S. Department of Education's office of civil rights, along with the Education department's Deputy General Counsel Philip Rosenfelt's and the Justice Department's Jocelyn Samuels, stresses the court's prior rulings that uphold the importance of diversity in breaking down racial isolation and stereotypes.

And they add, "furthermore, to be successful, the future workforce of America should transcend the boundaries of race, language, and culture as our economy becomes more globally interconnected." 

The letter also highlights previous guidance from the federal education department on racial diversity from 2011 for both K-12 and higher education. 

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