William Schilling, the University's student financial services director, was in a meeting with financial aid officials from several other schools when he heard the announcement. An Education Department official had just declared almost all scholarships set aside for minorities illegal. Schilling, like the rest of the officials assembled and the entire academic world, was stunned. Without any advanced warning or debate, the ruling was like an anvil falling on Schilling's office. Financial aid offices at colleges across the country felt the impact just as hard. And, like Schilling, most officials felt it flew in the face of twenty years of affirmative-action educational policies. "I can't see how you can have ]a law such as this[ without saying this issue attacks affirmative action," Schilling said. Financial aid officials from around the country said last week that minority scholarship programs have been a mainstay of their profession for decades, adding that they have been successful in opening doors to many who previously would not have had a chance to get a college diploma. Ironically, the Education Department justified the ruling on the 1964 Civil Rights Act. "The confusing part is that it has been an education agenda that all students receive educational access," Emory University Financial Aid Director Anne Sturtevant said last week. "One way has been the implementation of special [minority] programs." After widespread outrage from the educational and civil rights communities, the Education Department backed off from its original ruling only days after handing it down. Their policy now states that private universities receiving federal funds cannot set up race-exclusive scholarships. The shock of the initial announcement and confusion that still remains over the legal ramifications of this new policy have left many students and administrator dazed. Financial aid officials from several universities said last week that the policy shifts were nothing more than a fiasco. They said the new policy is full of contradictions and will need much more clarification. They also fear that minority students may feel that colleges and universities do not really want them -- and that their scholarship or aid money will be taken away. · It all started over Martin Luther King, Jr. After Arizona residents voted down a referendum acknowledging King's birthday as a state holiday, debate grew in the sporting community over holding athletic contests in the state. National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue recommended that the 1994 Super Bowl be taken from the state's capital, Phoenix. To quiet criticism, organizers of college football's Fiesta Bowl, held in Tempe, Arizona on New Year's Day, decided to offer $100,000 to each participating college's minority scholarship fund. But in December, the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights stepped in. Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Michael Williams said he commended the Fiesta Bowl's efforts but announced that the participating schools -- as well as all other colleges and universities receiving federal funds -- could not give or even handle race-exclusive scholarships. In a letter addressed to the executive director of the Fiesta Bowl, Williams outlined clauses of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protecting against racial or ethic discrimination. Williams recommended instead using as criteria "race-neutral" qualifications, such as disadvantaged economic, social or educational background. After the policy was announced, educators across the nation complained bitterly. "Clearly the reaction from the educational community [was negative]," Schilling said. "Quickly there was a backing off. Nothing was going to be pursued in the short run by the Department of Education." Part of the problem, Schilling said, is that Williams' ruling was not preceeded by the debate that legally must come before a major policy decision. "If the Department feels there is a concern here as far as the application of the civil rights law, and they want to do something about it, they should go though the ]legal[ regulations," Schilling said. Within days, academic outcry was joined by concern from the general public as the issue gained substantial national media attention. In a move which suggested that not all of the Bush administration supported Williams' policy, President Bush announced December 13 that the White House would review Williams' policy. Less than three weeks later, Williams appeared before reporters once again, announcing a six-point policy which said the department could not rule on the legality of state- and municipally-funded minority scholarships, but precluded "private universities" receiving federal funds from giving minority scholarships. The Department also said it would give universities and state and local governments four years to review their policies so that current undergraduates would not lose funding. After Williams' second announcement, administrators and students became even more confused. Administrators questioned the apparent distinction the Department made between public and private institutions. The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities maintains the Education Department inadvertently included the word "private" in the policy, but Education Department spokesperson Roger Murphy would not comment last week on the statement or clarify the issue. · In the second policy announcement, Williams had tried to make at least one thing clear -- present undergraduates would not lose funding, regardless of its source. However, at several colleges and universities, this message has not come across. For example, even though Ohio State University administrators sent press releases to every newspaper in Ohio explaining in detail that no student -- or incoming student -- should worry about financing their education, several students have called the university wondering if they have lost their aid. "We've had to assure them," Ohio State Student Financial Aid Director Mary Haldane said last week. "It's been a continuing problem for continuing students and prospective students." Other schools contacted last week which grant minority scholarships said their problems, though not on the magnitude of Ohio State's, have been similar. Private schools such as the University, which, for the most part, grant aid on a need-only basis, have not heard from many students worried they may lose their funds. However, financial aid and admissions directors worry about possible drops in minority applicants in the near future. "The ultimate problem is the message that gets to prospective students who are considering . . . private colleges is that there may be some limitations on funding -- and there isn't," Haverford College Financial Aid Director David Hoy said last week. "Schools such as Haverford are providing money." Provost Michael Aiken said last week that he also worries minority applicants to the University will drop. "The University has the responsibility to try to bring about a greater representation in the student body and faculty," Aiken said. "That's what I find disappointing about the new policy." · Throughout, the University has defended its undergraduate aid policy, restating that its aid programs, like those of several private colleges and universities, grants money on a need-only basis. However, one University program may face problems in the future -- the capital campaign's Minority Permanence Fund. The Minority Permanence Fund is actually made up of several programs, each which aim of increasing minority representation in all parts of the University. On the undergraduate level, the University is seeking donors to establish endowed scholarships for minority students. Financial Services Director Schilling said last week that although no scholarships have been distributed from the Minority Permanence Fund, the fund had raised half of its $35 million goal. Several University administrators maintained last week that the program is legally sound. They assert that one section of the new Education Department policy allows schools to administer scholarships funded entirely by private donations restricted to minority-only use. "As far as we're concerned, we're going full speed ahead," said Vice President for Development Rick Nahm, who oversees the capital campaign. But other financial aid officers across the country were less sure of the Education Department's policy on endowed scholarship funds. They point out that another section of the new policy prohibits private universities receiving federal funds from paying for minority scholarships with their own money. "A lot of organizations donate to the university," Emory's Stutevart said. "It becomes part of the 'funds.' What are they really saying, that you can't use tuition income?" The policy, Stutevart said, "doesn't speak realistically to how universities manage their money." "Rather than taking gifts and putting them into the endowment, they may have to put it aside," he said. · Some schools have concluded that the best thing to do about the new policy is to ignore it. With at least two major questions over the second policy's content, both proponents and opponents of minority scholarships have decided that the Education Department will have to clarify the policy once again before it will make any sense. After the first announcement, opponents of minority scholarships -- such as the Washington Legal Foundation -- cheered, calling the policy a clear, sound, legal one. However, after the second policy, even these opponents said the policy was confusing and unclear. John Scully, an attorney for the Washington Legal Foundation, told The Chronicle of High Education this month that the second policy substituted "bad politics" for "good law." Scully could not be reached for comment this week. Administrators, on the other hand, say the confusion over the new policy and the quick sucession of policies show the Education Department itself has no idea what its stance is and could not possibly enforce it. "They seem to be unsure about their position, so we've decided not to do anything right now," said Ernestine McCain, assistant director of college aid at the University of Chicago. In a letter sent to presidents of hundreds of colleges and universities last month, American Council on Education President Robert Atwell recommeded schools continue their programs without change, since the Education Department policy could change again. "The situation. . .continues to be fraught with confusion," Atwell said in the letter. "For now, we are advising colleges and universities that offer minority-designated scholarships not to make any changes in the structure of such scholarships or the procedures for awarding them." At the University, Schilling emphasized, the "multiple press conferences" on minority scholarship policy will not affect operations. "We're not doing anything different," he said. "The situation is very unclear. We're not sure exactly what the department's stand is. We suspect the department isn't exactly sure what it is." In the meantime, administrators have decided to continue to do what colleges and universities have done for a generation -- promote affirmative action in education. Emory's Sturtevant said that she is sure colleges and universities across the nation will find ways to continue funding minority students out of existing programs. "No one is going to openly violate the law, but they will continue to [use] these programs," she said. "I think schools will find ways to support students that they feel they need the support, ultimately."Comments powered by Disqus
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