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HEAD: It's discrimination

Pittsburgh-Review Tribune ((editorial))
Saturday, December 17, 2005

          "Universities that want their bread buttered on both sides when it comes to affirmative action would do better to apply more fiber than fat in their reasoning.

          "It's true that the U.S. Supreme Court two years ago said universities may consider race in college-admission decisions. But race is to be considered along with other factors. The high court said each application must be evaluated individually.

          "In no way is that upheld when universities insist on offering minority-only scholarships.  And that contempt may land one university in court.  [SIU Carbondale]

          "The U.S. Justice Department has threatened to file a lawsuit over Southern Illinois University's three paid fellowships, which are reserved exclusively for minority and female students.

          "How with a straight face can the university's spokesman say the program, 'which has expanded the depth and breadth of diversity,' doesn't discriminate?

          "So-called 'diversity' achieved by excluding whites and/or males is not diversity at all but discrimination.   With regard to Southern Illinois' program, which includes stipends, there may be a violation of Title VII of the Civil Right Act, which bars discrimination in employment.

          "Other universities, Northwestern among them, have opened up programs that formerly were race-exclusive since the Supreme Court ruling.

          "Sadly some centers of higher education would rather remain ignorant about something that by now should be elementary."

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HEAD: Race cases put colleges to test

By Kavita Kumar



          "The dispute between the Justice Department and Southern Illinois University over three minority graduate fellowships taps into an issue that has nagged educators for years: How can universities attract minority students without breaking the law?

          "It's a tricky question, experts say, because there is no clear federal policy or court decision about race-based scholarships, fellowships and outreach programs.

          "In Missouri and Illinois, some universities have done away with such programs in recent years and are looking for alternate ways to make their classes diverse.

          "The movement to open up such programs intensified after two U.S. Supreme Court cases in 2003 regarding affirmative action.  In those cases, brought against the University of Michigan, the justices ruled that race can be one factor, but not the only factor, that universities use in admissions.

          " 'The Michigan cases have had a chilling effect on a lot of these universities,' said John Baworowsky, a vice president at St. Louis University, which eliminated a scholarship for black students two years ago.   'We're all trying to do a better job of appealing to students of diverse backgrounds while living within the confine of the law.'

          "Other schools, however, have not changed course.  Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, for example, has no plans to eliminate a scholarship for minorities.

          " 'We are very comfortable with our practices here at SIUE,' said Sharon Berry, director of the university's financial aid office.

          "Part of the problem is a lack of consensus on what the Michigan cases mean.

          "Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel for the American Council on Education, said the decisions left little ambiguity about the legality of certain scholarships and programs.

          " 'If you can't have a race-specific admissions program, it stands to logic that you can't have a race-specific fellowship program or a race-specific summer outreach program,' he said.

          "But Art Coleman, a former deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Education Department under President Bill Clinton, said there is still a lot of confusion about what is allowed.

          "The Michigan cases dealt exclusively with admissions and didn't address aid and outreach programs, said Coleman, now a Washington lawyer who leads seminars and has written policy manuals on the issue for the College Board.

          "Coleman argues that context may well be the deciding factor in whether programs pass legal review.  Universities, he said, need to show that the programs have a compelling interest - such as the educational benefits of having a diverse campus - and that using race is necessary to meet that end.

          " 'There is still a lot of frustration because these are not easy cases and these are not easy questions,' he said.

Pushing for changes

          "After the Michigan cases, the Center for Equal Opportunity, a Virginia-based group that opposes racial preferences, ramped up its efforts to make schools open up their minority programs to people of all races. The group has sent letters to hundreds of schools where it found or received complaints about racially exclusive programs, said Roger Clegg, the group's general counsel.

          "The center complained to Washington University and SLU about their scholarships - and later went to the federal government, prompting both schools to make changes.

          "Last year, the center filed a complaint with the Justice Department about three SIU minority fellowships at the Carbondale campus that provide students with stipends and tuition assistance.

          "In a letter to SIU in early November, the Justice Department said the university, because of the fellowship programs, 'has engaged in a pattern or practice of intentional discrimination against whites, nonpreferred minorities and males' in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

          "For the last couple of weeks, federal and SIU officials have met behind closed doors to work out a compromise.  If the Justice Department sues SIU, as it has threatened, experts say it would be the first time in the last decade that a race-based scholarship or fellowship has been challenged in court.

          "As the situation unfolds at SIU, administrators at other schools continue to stand by their minority scholarships and programs.

          "For example, the University of Missouri at Rolla uses money from corporations to offer summer campus and workshops for high school minority students and provides race-based scholarships.  Maryville University gives a few small scholarships to minorities in its education school with money donated by Southwestern Bell.

          "Coleman said universities would not likely be liable for scholarships or programs paid for and administered by outside groups.  But if a university funds or has a significant hand in the administration of a scholarship, it could be on shaky ground under the law.

          "Even the state of Missouri has a scholarship for minority students.  The Missouri Minority Teaching Scholarship was set up by a state law about a decade ago and is administered through the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  About 100 scholarships of a few thousand dollars each are awarded every year to black, Hispanic, Native-Americans and Asian-American students.

          "The department says it is not aware of any complaints about the scholarships.

New challenges

          "SLU and Washington U., which retooled their minority scholarships in the last couple of years, are grappling today with what those changes mean for student diversity.

          "About two years ago, SLU did away with its blacks-only Ernest A. Calloway Jr. scholarships.  The school instead instituted Martin Luther King Jr. scholarships for students of any background who are committed to promoting diversity.  Since the change, 38 percent of MLK scholars have been black, 27 percent white, 17 percent Hispanic and 15 percent Asian-American.

          "Baworowsky, vice president of enrollment management and academic services at SLU, said the new scholarship program has brought in more out-of-state students, from places like Florida and California.  But he is also concerned that it hurt the number of black students who enrolled in this year's freshman class.  Black students make up about 6.4 percent of the class - slightly less than the percentage last year, even though the class as a whole grew by about 75 students.

          "Baworowsky hopes he can attract more black students by making the scholarship applicants come to campus for interviews, allowing the school to 'roll out the red carpet.'  He also hopes to offer better aid packages to low-income and first-generation college students.

          "At Washington U., the John B. Ervin and Annika Rodriguez scholarship programs had a mix of students - not just blacks and Hispanics - for the first time this year.  The university reluctantly changed the programs after federal officials received complaints from the Center for Equal Opportunity.

          "James McLeod, vice chancellor for students, said it's too early to determine how the change will affect student diversity.

          " 'This is something our government has felt is important to do and we've done it,' he said.  'We've welcomed this group of terrific young people. . . . We're moving on.'

          "The challenge now is to figure out how to recruit minorities without the scholarships, McLeod said. So the school is beefing up its mailings and school visits.

          " 'We're trying to make college fairs in every place we can find one,' he said."

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*  We use the term reverse discrimination reluctantly and only because it is so widely understood.  In our opinion there really is only one kind of discrimination.