Washington Watch: Executive Order on race and sex stereotyping

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Last week, President Trump issued an Executive Order with the stated goal “to promote unity in the Federal workforce, and to combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating.” Its scope includes diversity training and education efforts conducted by recipients of federal contracts and grants, under certain conditions.

Among other things, the order states that “many people are pushing a different vision of America that is grounded in hierarchies based on collective social and political identities rather than in the inherent and equal dignity of every person as an individual. This ideology is rooted in the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors; and that racial and sexual identities are more important than our common status as human beings and Americans.”

Institutional impact unclear

The concrete implications of the order for community colleges are difficult to determine at this point, assuming that the president is re-elected and that the order remains in effect. This is because a series of administrative actions will be needed to set it into motion, and that a number of implementation decisions would also need to be made. 

While many community college leaders are concerned about the nature and tone of the order, in terms of how it might affect campuses there is little that can be definitively stated.

The order has two basic prongs, for federal grants and contracts. Under the order, federal contractors are not permitted to “use any workplace training that inculcates in its employees any form of race or sex stereotyping or any form of race or sex scapegoating.” It adds that the term “race or sex stereotyping” means ascribing character traits, values, moral and ethical codes, privileges, status, or beliefs to a race or sex, or to an individual because of his or her race or sex, and the term “race or sex scapegoating” means assigning fault, blame, or bias to a race or sex, or to members of a race or sex because of their race or sex.” Contractors who violate this provision may have their contract canceled, terminated, or suspended in whole or in part and the contractor may be declared ineligible for further Government contracts. This prohibition extends to all activities of the contractor, not just the contract, and so could have broad implications for institutions.  Furthermore, the prohibition extends to all subcontractors as well. The order applies to contracts entered into 60 days after the date of the order and later, and thus not current contracts.

The order’s application to grant programs is much more limited, though community colleges receive far more federal grants than contracts.  (Student aid seems largely if not entirely exempted from the order.) It states that federal agencies shall review their respective grant programs and identify programs for which the agency may, as a condition of receiving such a grant, require the recipient to certify that it will not use Federal funds to promote the concepts of sex stereotyping and scapegoating delineated in the order. Therefore, agencies retain discretion over which programs would be impacted by the order. In addition, it is likely that formal regulations would need to be issued before it could be applied to programs. So, application of this condition would appear to be, at minimum, some months off. 

Princeton University investigation

On a different but related issue, the American Association of Community Colleges has joined with 54 other higher education organizations, including the American Council on Education (ACE), to urge the Department of Education (ED) to end its just-launched investigation of Princeton University. Among other things, in a September 16 letter to Princeton president Christopher Eisgruber, ED alleges that Princeton may have engaged in a misrepresentation when it certified that it was in compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Title VI provides no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. ED’s letter to Einburger states that “you admitted Princeton’s educational program is and for decades has been racist.” It also stated that, “Based on its admitted racism, the U.S. Department of Education is concerned Princeton’s nondiscrimination and equal opportunity assurances in its Program Participation Agreements from at least 2013 to the present may have been false.”

The ACE, AACC et al correspondence states that, “Like colleges and universities all over our country, Princeton University is strongly committed to ending racial injustice and preventing discrimination in any form and to do so in a way that will benefit all members of the Princeton community. Regrettably, instead of encouraging Princeton’s efforts, the Department of Education launched an unprecedented and unwarranted investigation into the institution. Such an action is likely to chill the genuine efforts of hundreds of other institutions, many without the resources that Princeton has to defend itself against a federal investigation, to identify, recognize, and correct injustices. We urge the department to end this misguided effort and not use the power of the federal government to investigate schools that are trying to build a better, more inclusive America.” AACC continues to closely monitor these and related developments, both for their general impact on federal higher education policy; but also, more importantly, to help institutions maintain their core missions while remaining compliant with all federal requirements. AACC will share with its members more relevant information on Executive Branch actions in this area as soon as it becomes available.

About the Author

David Baime
is senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.