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A public US university I'm familiar with is promoting an anti-racism initiative. As part of this initiative, a web article posted on the university's diversity web portal (which was advertised in an email newsletter to the university community) contains a list of suggested actions that employees and departments can take to advance the cause of anti-racism. One of the actions on the list is to support businesses owned by people of color. The recommendation is accompanied by links to various lists of black-owned businesses in the region.

Is it legal for a public US university administration to advise its employees to patronize businesses owned by people of a specific race, both in their private lives and in the transaction of official university business?

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  • An "anti-racism" initiative that is fundamentally racist? This is an impressive application of newspeak, even for academia. – acpilot Sep 23 '20 at 14:17
  • This sounds like advice. Is it required of the employees, even for work-related procurements? – Damila Sep 23 '20 at 19:18
  • It is not phrased as a requirement, but it seems clear this is something the administration is encouraging university employees to do. – a curious mind Sep 23 '20 at 19:36
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Advising employees to take some lawful action is legal, and is speech protected by the US Constitution. Campaigning for a political candidate could jeopardize the university's tax-exempt status, but there is no law requiring a university, even a government university, to remain politically neutral. That alone answers the question.

Whether or not the university could itself pursue racially-weighted business policies depends on what they are doing and what state it is in. It is generally legal to adopt policies that address discrimination, but 9 states have laws banning affirmative action. The cases Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger establish that "blanket policies" run counter to the requirements of the 14th Amendment, but race can be used as a factor in making decisions. Here is a list or affirmative action related decisions in the US. As applied to a state's affirmative action programs, the standard of legality would be having a clear goal of limited scope without other workable race-neutral means to achieve it.

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  • Thanks! The second paragraph of your answer seems like the key (so "that alone answers the question" was not quite correct...) - my state bans race-based discrimination in public education and contracting. From my reading of the relevant law, at least to my layman's understanding the behavior I was describing does not sound like it is complying with this ban. – a curious mind Sep 23 '20 at 16:03

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