Meanwhile, the Department of Justice is emphasizing following proper procedures by creating formal regulations, as opposed to issuing “Dear Colleague” letters.
“In previous administrations…agencies often tried to impose new rules on the American people without any public notice or comment period, simply by sending a letter or posting a guidance document on a website,” stated Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a press release itemizing rescinded guidance. “That’s wrong, and it’s not good government.”
The next complication is whether federal power should apply to only government entities, or also private. The right answer is usually “only government,” because unlike private people, government does not enjoy association, religious, and other rights, and it can legally impose itself on people ultimately at the point of a gun. But when private schools receive oodles of federal cash the distinctions become blurred, and that is certainly the case in higher education, with colleges heavily dependent on students paying with federal loans and grants, and institutions often getting lots of other government funds.
Finally, there is the root quandary: While most Americans would probably say the ultimately correct position is for government to be color‐blind, for centuries most Americans and their governments weren’t even close to that and the price paid, especially by African‐Americans, has been very steep. But how do we ameliorate the effects of past racially‐driven wrongs without policies that take race into account? Finding the answer to that is even tougher knowing that people who did not perpetuate the past wrongs could well end up paying some of the price.
I’ve argued that the right way to navigate the almost impossible passageway between making up for past sins and repeating them is for private colleges to embrace affirmative action, and publics to essentially admit by lottery. Free people must voluntarily atone for past wrongs, while government must cease any race‐conscious decision‐making. The implication for federal policy is that private schools like Harvard would be left alone, but the University of Michigan totally changed. That said, such policies must not come by federal executive fiat, either in the form of “Dear Colleague” letters or regulations. They would have to come through state and federal legislative processes scrutinized by the judicial system.
Of course, there are many highly defensible reasons to oppose my proposal, and it is more an ideal than a plan. And the more immediate concern is far more basic: We need to acknowledge how complicated this is, and carefully proceed with an assumption that disagreement isn’t based in bad will or animus, but many different valuations of competing goods.