Changes to Minority Scholarship Programs Pose New Threat to Affirmative Action on Campus

By staff
March 22, 2006

The nation's colleges and universities have begun opening up minority
scholarships, fellowships, and other programs to all students in
response to pressure from affirmative action opponents, which is
putting decades-long progress in ensuring equal access to higher
education in serious jeopardy, according to civil rights groups.

"That some colleges and universities are keeping so-called minority
aid programs but opening them to all students is just another way of
saying they are ending these programs," said Wade Henderson,
executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights

While many colleges and universities have maintained their commitment
to diversity, some of the nation's top schools, including Princeton
University, Carnegie Mellon University, Pepperdine University,
Southern Illinois University (SIU), Washington University in St.
Louis, and Williams College have decided to modify programs
originally designed to reach out to underrepresented communities,
including minorities and women.

Despite the Supreme Court's 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger,
which upheld the need for affirmative action programs and the
consideration of race as one of many factors in higher education
admissions, anti-affirmative action groups like the Center for Equal
Opportunity (CEO) continue to claim that affirmative action programs
are unconstitutional and have threatened to sue numerous colleges and
universities who defend their programs.

Since Grutter, the Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO) has sent more
than 200 letters challenging colleges and universities' programs.

The attacks on affirmative action have been coordinated and
systematic, often benefiting from assistance from the Department of
Education (DOE) and, most recently, the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Earlier this year, facing the threat of a lawsuit from DOJ, Southern
Illinois University agreed
to change three fellowship programs whose recipients have been mainly
underrepresented minorities or women.

"Opponents of affirmative action who continue to challenge colleges
and universities remain unwilling to acknowledge existing, persistent
educational disparities and affirmative action's important role in
leveling the playing field," said LCCR's Henderson.

Civil rights groups maintain
that affirmative action programs merely ensure that minorities and
women have a level playing field and equal access to opportunities.

"How is it that they conclude that the great evil in this country is
discrimination against white people?" Theodore M. Shaw, president of
the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, told The New York Times
. "Can I put that question any more pointedly? I struggle to find the
words to do it because it's so stunning."

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities estimates
that as many as half of the four-year colleges in the country have
reviewed or opened their programs.

According to The New York Times, given the possible reluctance of
colleges and universities to announce that they are opening
successful programs that help to diversify the student body, there
may be no accurate count of how many schools have actually opened
their programs.