WASHINGTON – Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center has agreed to stop using race as a factor for applicants to its medical school, bowing to pressure from the Trump administration's attempts to curtail the use of affirmative action in admissions.
The Lubbock medical school struck a deal with the Education Department in February, concluding a 14-year investigation into the university's use of affirmative action, The Wall Street Journal first reported. Tech said it would inform the staff of changes by March 1 and said it would remove material related to race or national origins by September.
In a letter to the Education Department, the school said it is "committed to exploring race-neutral alternatives" and evaluating the current admissions policies when it comes to considering an applicant's race.
"If a determination is made in the future that using race as a factor in admissions is necessary... (Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center) will provide notice," wrote Eric Bentley, Texas Tech University System vice president and general counsel.
The action is the first of its kind by Betsy DeVos' Education Department and signals the approach the agency will take with other schools.
The department has investigations underway into the use of race admissions at Yale and Harvard universities. Those cases question whether Asian Americans are being discriminated against during the admissions process.
Last July, the department revoked an Obama-era guideline for how schools could legally consider race in the interest of promoting diversity.
This is not the first time affirmative action has come up in Texas. The University of Texas was tied up in a seven-year legal battle related to Abigail Fisher, a white female, who was not accepted. Fisher challenged the school's affirmative action and automatic admissions policies.
The Supreme Court heard Fisher v. Texas twice, reaffirming the practice of race as an admissions factor in a 4-3 decision in 2016. Former Justice Anthony Kennedy left the door open for future legal challenges by saying universities must review their affirmative action policies and assess the effects.
The original complaint against Tech was filed in 2005 by Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity, which opposes affirmative action. The complaint was prompted after the school announced it would consider race in admissions.
Tech discontinued its use of affirmative action at the pharmacy school in 2008 and undergraduate admissions in 2013. The medical school argued it must continue weighing race in admissions because doctors from various backgrounds can serve Texas' diverse communities.
According to a resolution agreement obtained by the Journal, the medical school did not review on an annual basis whether race-based measures in admissions were necessary.
"The Supreme Court has clarified that the academic judgment as to the educational benefits that exist from a diverse student body is entitled to some, but not complete, judicial deference," Education Department officials wrote to Texas Tech in March, in a letter supplementing the agreement.