Rep. Michelle Steel introduces bill to hold colleges accountable for using ‘personality traits’ in admissions

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FIRST ON FOX: California GOP Rep. Michelle Steel is introducing legislation aimed at ensuring more transparency in higher education by requiring colleges and universities to be transparent about the usage of “personality traits” in admissions decisions.

The new bill comes as the Supreme Court agreed in the fall to hear two cases against U.S. colleges, Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), for allegedly “penalizing Asian American applicants” and using “race as a factor in admissions.” 

An amicus brief filed by the then-Trump administration’s Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2018 alleges that Harvard scores Asian Americans lower on the “personal rating” component, which includes subjective qualities such as “positive personality,” “likability” and being a “good person” with “human qualities.” 

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The “HARVARD Act” introduced Wednesday by Steel would hold higher education institutions accountable for using those personality traits as a key admissions factor.

“Every student should have the opportunity to succeed and build their own American Dream on their own merit. The use of personality traits, or discriminatory racial preferences, in admissions practices is just wrong,” Steel told Fox News Digital. 

“I’ve worked for decades to bring fairness in our education system, and this is another important step toward ensuring a level playing field for ALL students,” Steel continued.

Michelle Steel, then an Orange County supervisor, participates in a press conference in Santa Ana, California, on Nov. 5, 2020.

Michelle Steel, then an Orange County supervisor, participates in a press conference in Santa Ana, California, on Nov. 5, 2020.
( Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

The bill would require colleges to publicly acknowledge their use of personality traits in admissions, making it readily available on their application materials and websites. It would also require an explanation as to why they use such traits and the criteria and standards used in ratings of potential students.

Steel’s office says they are still gathering cosponsors on the legislation. The congresswoman worked in the state previously to ban racial preferences in education as well as hiring, Prop 209, which was modeled on the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Biden administration’s DOJ had urged the Supreme Court to not take up the case, with Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar citing precedent and lower court decisions that backed Harvard and allow a college applicant’s race to be used as a factor in admissions. In addition, the Biden DOJ also dropped a similar case against Yale University’s admissions practices right after Biden took office.

Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill in Washington.
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

“Harvard uses race at every stage of the admissions process,” Students for Fair Admissions, which brought the case to the Supreme Court, said in its filing. “African-American and Hispanic students with PSAT scores of 1100 and up are invited to apply to Harvard, but white and Asian-American students must score a 1350. … In some parts of the country, Asian-American applicants must score higher than all other racial groups, including whites, to be recruited by Harvard.”

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Harvard and UNC maintain that their use of race in admissions is proper and does not discriminate against Asian Americans.

The high court will most likely make a decision in 2023 in the case, Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College.

Fox News’ Caitlin McFall contributed to this report.