ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

Fairness in Funding

April 13, 2005 by ACTA

In 1985, the state of Wisconsin established the Ben R. Lawton Minority Undergraduate Grant Program, which reserves scholarship money for black, Hispanic, and American Indian students, as well as students whose families are refugees from Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos. The program centers on helping students who have completed their freshman year and who fit the designated racial and ethnic profile stay in college; the average award is on the order of $1400. Similar aid programs, in which money is earmarked for minority students, have come under fire in recent years. The Office of Civil Rights has investigated a number of such programs at Carnegie Mellon, Harvard, Yale, and other schools, and has declared them to be discriminatory. In response, nearly seventy colleges and universities across the country have adjusted their aid programs to be more inclusive, and thus more fair to all potential applicants.

The University of Wisconsin, however, is unimpressed by what has become, at this point, a national effort to ensure that misguided--if well-intentioned--minority aid programs are restructured along legally acceptable lines. The University is defending its practice of reserving scholarship money for minority students, despite a complaint filed with federal officials by a retired UW economics professor, W. Lee Hansen. Hansen's complaint claims that the Lawton program violates Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which forbids any institution that receives federal funds from engaging in racial discrimination. The Office of Civil Rights is presently investigating. Hansen has been challenging the Lawton grants for years.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has the details, including a telling quote from David Glisch-Sanchez, who is director of academic affairs at the Madison campus. According to Glisch-Sanchez, who spoke about this issue at the February meeting of the UW Board of regents, the university should mount "a strong show of support for programs like the Lawton grants in order to send a clear message to those who would forsake race-conscious efforts." In other words, the rationale for the complaint is lost on Glisch-Sanchez, whose primary concern seems to be to preserve a form of activism that the law expressly forbids. Glisch-Sanchez went on to declare that those who would see minority aid programs become race-blind aid programs are ignoring "how poverty is tied to race and gender." Poverty may be tied to race and gender, but it is also tied to itself: a race-blind aid program centered strictly on need should work well to help ensure that students of all colors and all backgrounds get the help they need to stay in school.

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