By: Rebecca Turco
With additional reporting by The Associated Press
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Trump administration could begin investigating universities over whether their admissions policies illegally discriminate against applicants.
That's according to The New York Times, which reported Wednesday that it obtained an internal Justice Department job posting. The department said it is seeking current employees interested in ``investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.''
Advocacy groups fear that means the Justice Department will soon target affirmative action policies designed to give minorities an advantage over other applicants with similar test scores.
"This would turn back the clock to the 50s and we just don't need that," said Jim Vincent, who heads the Providence branch of the NAACP.
Vincent denies the implication that white applicants are being discriminated against. "Affirmative action programs are good. They are outreach programs, not quota programs."
As worried as he may be, Vincent feels this may just be smoke and mirrors from the administration. "What do you do when you're under scrutiny?” he questioned. “How do you change the subject? You give your base red meat. Something that you know they would believe in, they would applaud."
A justice department spokesman declined to provide more details.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders addressed the Times report in her daily press briefing, saying it was based on “uncorroborated inferences” from a leaked internal memo, which she said was in violation of justice department policy. "While the white house does not confirm nor deny the existence of potential investigations, the Department of Justice will always review credible allegations of discrimination on the basis of any race," she said.
Congressman David Cicilline, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, tells ABC6 News that such an investigation would start to “roll back important civil rights protections” that help define America as “a place of opportunity for everyone.”
"We'll have some responsibility on the Judiciary Committee to provide some oversight obviously to the Justice Department to learn more about what the plans are," Cicilline said.
The Supreme Court last year upheld a University of Texas program that takes account of race in deciding whom to admit. But the move comes as groups have sued other universities over the practice.
ABC6 News reached out to the seven colleges and universities in Rhode Island. Four answered the inquiry, including Johnson and Wales University, which had no comment.
Below are statements from Brown University and Salve Regina University. Rhode Island College sent a general statement on non-discrimination.
Our admissions practices do not discriminate against any racial or ethnic group. Each year, we confront the challenge of admitting an entering class from among tens of thousands of outstanding applicants. We consider each application individually based on many factors and make admissions decisions on a case-by-case basis. Our goal is to build a well-rounded class that is both academically talented and reflects the diversity of perspective that is fundamentally central to our commitment to academic excellence.
Salve Regina University:
As a Catholic Institution that is guided by the ideals set forth by The Sisters of Mercy, we firmly believe in the value of creating a diverse and inclusive environment in which all students of all backgrounds can participate in the process of academic and personal discovery. As such, we seek to identify students with a wide variety of experiences and talents to develop a well-rounded undergraduate population that speaks to our ideals and prepare them to make a positive impact on the world. Additionally, the question of affirmative action in admissions policies has been addressed by the Judiciary on multiple occasions, most recently with the Fisher ruling.
- James Fowler Jr., Vice President for Enrollment Management
Rhode Island College:
Pursuant to the philosophy of the Board of Education and the Council on Postsecondary Education, Rhode Island College prohibits discrimination, including harassment and retaliation, on the basis of race, color, creed, national or ethnic origin, gender, gender identity or expression, religion, disability, age, sexual orientation, genetic information, marital status, citizenship status or status as a special disabled veteran, recently separated veteran, Vietnam era veteran, or any other veteran who served on active duty during a war or in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge has been authorized. Rhode Island College also prohibits all forms of sexual harassment and sexual violence.
© WLNE-TV, AP 2017