After Supreme Court rulings, minority only scholarships still legal

In the wake of the June 2003 Supreme Court rulings regarding affirmative action, conservative groups such as the Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO) are still concerned about minority scholarship funds like Tufts’ Pritzker fund.

The fund was recently started by new Trustee Karen Pritzker and husband Daniel (A’81) and will match dollar for dollar any money given towards minority scholarships up to $5 million. The grant stresses that it serves specifically “undergraduate African American, Hispanic American and Native American students from underprivileged backgrounds.”

Funding minority-only scholarships is entirely legal. “Individuals who choose to invest their own money in causes and opportunities that are meaningful to them are not restricted by affirmative action rules,” Public Relations director Siobhan Houton said.

Houton stressed that “Tufts is in compliance with the admissions policies and processes of the June 2003 Supreme Court affirmative action rulings.”

The ruling deemed that colleges would be allowed to keep the ability to consider race in choosing students.

However, CEO Vice President Roger Clegg stressed that even if schools like Tufts are technically within the limits of the law with their minority-exclusive scholarships, it “is not right, or legal, in my opinion, to exclude because of the color of skin.”

Intent on fighting “reverse discrimination” at colleges throughout the country, Clegg insists that programs such as the Pritzker Fund are “unfair, divisive, silly and illegal.” He added that “we’re not trying to limit any opportunities for anyone; we want the system changed that that all can participate.”

Due to increased pressure from conservative groups such as CEO, many other schools throughout the nation are carefully reassessing their admissions and scholarship policies for minority students.

Despite many schools’ decisions to change how they factor race into other crucial academic decisions, Tufts has not been forced to make any major changes to its own policies in the wake of the ruling.

Director of Financial Aid Patricia Reilly noted that “since Tufts already meets the full financial need of all accepted students, regardless of race, the University of Michigan ruling will have little impact on how we award financial aid.”

Reilly added that “although minority students at Tufts may qualify for aid from specific funds, such as the Pritzker Fund, the amount of financial aid is based solely on financial need and is not related to the student’s minority status.”

Although the Supreme Court ruling was regarded as a victory for affirmative action, some still feel it did not go far enough to protect policies which encourage diversity on campus. The July 2003 decision also struck down the University of Michigan’s points-based admissions system which awarded minority applicants extra points.

“I agree with the ruling but I don’t think it goes far enough,” Latino Center Director Rub‚n Stern said. “While it justifies some type of affirmative action based on diversity being a good thing for the education of all students… it never mentions the racism that has been part of our history and that still exists today as the justification for affirmative action.”

Similarly, Sociology professor Paula Aymer noted that “societal conditions have not improved to the point where the playing field is level for all races.”

“We have to look out for people who are disproportionately needy,” Aymer said. She finds that certain minority-based scholarships are currently the best way to give largely underprivileged racial groups a chance at higher education. “I don’t know what an alternative could be,” she said.

Although by and large Tufts Arts & Sciences has felt little or no impact from the Michigan ruling, that is not to say that the institution as a whole has felt no pressure since the landmark case.

Two of Tufts Medical School’s programs were accused last April of race-based admissions, and were subsequently forced to change their on-line descriptions of those programs to less minority-exclusive wording.

CEO threatened to report Tufts to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights if the university didn’t change the admissions statements on the website. Tufts complied, and the charges were dropped.

“Tufts should be applauded for taking that step in the right direction,” Clegg said.

Ohio State University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst dropped point-based undergraduate admissions policies last October, and, like the University of Michigan, will now rely more on responses to essay questions in evaluating students’ potential diversity contribution.