Alumni Assoc. to give aid to minorities

BY CHRIS HERRING: DAILY NEWS EDITOR

Published October 18, 2007

The Alumni Association of the University of Michigan plans to hand out scholarships based on race and gender by next fall, Alumni Association President Steve Grafton said yesterday.

Grafton said board members met yesterday to plan the implementation of the scholarship program. The group's board set aside $650,000 for scholarships at a meeting last month and hopes to offer the first set of scholarships to students entering the University in September.

Grafton said the scholarships are intended to limit the effect of Proposal 2, which banned the use of affirmative action in Michigan.

But exactly how the scholarships will be awarded is yet to be decided. Grafton said the board hopes to figure that out within the next three weeks.

The alumni association sent a board member to the University of Texas to ask for advice from Texas alumni. Texas Exes, a group for former University of Texas students, implemented a similar scholarship plan after affirmative action was banned there in 1996.

"We've got a thousand questions as to how it's going to work exactly," he said.

When board members first discussed starting an additional scholarship fund after Proposal 2 passed in November, Grafton first had to determine whether the alumni association could legally award the scholarships.

The alumni association is a private 501(c)3 organization, which entitles it to raise funds separately from the University. However, the group calls itself "a committed partner of the University" in its mission statement, which has raised questions about whether it is legally affiliated with the University and bound by Proposal 2.

Grafton said the alumni association hired a law firm to make sure the group's efforts weren't against the law.

"It's legal," Grafton said. "What passed in the state in no way prohibits people contributing to the alumni association."

Maya Kobersy, an assistant University general counsel, said the alumni association decided to offer the scholarships independent of the University.

"To my knowledge, the University wasn't involved in the decision at all," Kobersy said. "We learned about it when the alumni association's board reached its determination this summer."

Some people might be reluctant to donate to the alumni association because the plan could be seen as undermining the spirit of Proposal 2.

Grafton said he expects some to react that way, but that it won't deter the Alumni Association.

"All we're doing is providing a legal avenue for donors that want to give money for certain purposes," he said. "People can think whatever they want to think."

Grafton said the alumni association will seek donations from private companies rather than from University alumni because the group doesn't want to step on the University's toes. He said he thinks the group will be able to find donors because many people feel passionately about the issue.

"It matters to alumni a lot," he said. "Whatever we can do legally to help promote diversity, we want to do. Fortunately this looks like something we'll be able to do."