Documents obtained by Do No Harm via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests show the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), which has a say in whether medical schools get accredited, forwarded to medical schools guidance published by the Biden Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Education (DOE) concerning the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision holding that race-based admissions programs in higher education violate the Constitution.
A “Dear Colleague” letter, dated August 14 and signed by Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, and Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights, Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education, condemned the Court’s ruling, stating it “restricts approaches that institutions of higher education have been using for decades to provide students the educational benefits that derive from diverse and vibrant campus communities.”
After the White House assailed the Court’s decision as threatening “to move the country backwards,” the DOJ and DOE observed in its letter the Biden administration was now calling “on colleges, universities, and other stakeholders to seize the opportunity to expand access to educational opportunity for all students and to build diverse student bodies, including by recognizing and valuing students who have overcome adversity.”
The “Dear Colleague” letter then linked to a “Questions and Answers” guide in order to “help colleges and universities understand the Supreme Court’s decision as they continue to pursue campuses that are racially diverse and that include students with a range of viewpoints, talents, backgrounds, and experiences.”
“The Departments also reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that educational institutions remain open to all, regardless of race,” the letter stated, with a claim that suggests programs that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion ensure schools do not discriminate against individuals of certain races:
Research has shown that such diversity leads to, among other things, livelier and more informative classroom discussions, breakdown of prejudices and increased cross-racial understanding, and heightened cognitive development and problem-solving skills.
“We stand ready to support institutions that recognize that such diversity is core to their commitment to excellence, and that pursue lawful steps to promote diversity and full inclusion,” the federal departments stated.
In their letter, DOJ and DOE further referred to their target population as “underserved students, including students of color”:
For institutions of higher education, this may mean redoubling efforts to recruit and retain talented students from underserved communities, including those with large numbers of students of color. It may likewise mean a greater focus on fostering a sense of belonging for students currently enrolled.
In the FOIA documents obtained by Do No Harm, one email contained information about Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School’s announcement in July of its “4th Annual Diversity in Medicine-Virtual Residency Fair,” to be held August 12.
“This event is a Brown-wide Virtual Residency Fair where Underrepresented in Medicine (UiM) residency candidates can meet the program leadership, learn about life as a resident, DEI initiatives, opportunities at Brown and more,” the invitation stated, reflecting language similar to that in the “Dear Colleague” letter.
According to one email reviewed by Do No Harm, Shelvy L. Campbell-Monroe, Ph.D., associate dean for diversity and inclusion at Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine (MUSOM), forwarded the Brown invitation while pointing out to her recipients, “Notice wording since – Supreme Court ruling.”
In its “Questions and Answers,” DOJ and DOE emphasized that while the Supreme Court’s ruling “limited the ability of institutions of higher education to consider an applicant’s race in and of itself as a factor in deciding whether to admit the applicant,” the Court still “made clear that ‘nothing in [its] opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.’”
“This means that universities may continue to embrace appropriate considerations through holistic application-review processes and (for example) provide opportunities to assess how applicants’ individual backgrounds and attributes—including those related to their race, experiences of racial discrimination, or the racial composition of their neighborhoods and schools—position them to contribute to campus in unique ways,” the departments stated.
The signal, however, from the federal departments that institutions of higher learning – including medical schools – might adjust the wording of their DEI language, from blatant mention of “race” to equity-conscious terms such as “underserved” or “underrepresented” is still likely to draw lawsuits when qualified students are blocked from admission in favor of those who claim to have non-academic obstacles to entry.
In July, for example, Liberty Justice Center called on more than 150 medical schools to end their race-based admissions policies in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling, stating the decision “concludes that diversity is no longer a compelling interest under the Equal Protection Clause.”
“In an industry where merit and skill must be the most important factors when selecting the top applicants for admission, medical schools have a moral obligation to swiftly comply with the law and remove these discriminatory practices,” said Jacob Huebert, president of Liberty Justice Center.
The public-interest litigation firm asserted it is “prepared to challenge any higher educational institution that continues to discriminate against students, faculty, or board leaders.”
Get up to speed with the threats facing healthcare – and how we’re protecting patients and physicians.
"*" indicates required fields