A campaign against opportunities exclusively tailored for underrepresented minorities hit the University this week. The Center for Equal Opportunity sent a letter to University officials asking them to open 12 programs and scholarships to all students.
CEO, a conservative watchdog group, gave the University until April 14 to file an appropriate response. If it does not respond, the letter states, the group will file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said the University plans to take no action until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of its admissions standards. The court will hear arguments Tuesday in two lawsuits against the University and is expected to hand down a decision later in the spring.
“Such racially and ethnically exclusive programs violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids any recipient of federal money from discriminating ‘on the basis of race, color, or national origin,'” the letter says.
Attorney Edward Blum, who co-signed the letter with CEO’s lawyer, said his goal is not to close the programs, but to amend them to meet civil rights and anti-discrimination laws. Blum is director of legal affairs for the American Civil Rights Institute, a similar watchdog group.
“We believe that these programs should be made available to all students based on merit and need and not on race and ethnicity,” Blum said.
Peterson said the letter did not come as a surprise, considering that CEO has implemented similar campaigns in the past. She reiterated the University’s commitment to promoting diversity and said she was not surprised the letter came one week before the court hearings.
“It really reveals their long-term strategy, which is to eventually eliminate any program which serves to bring in a diverse student body,” Peterson said.
Among the programs CEO attacked are the LEAD Program in Business and the School of Information Opportunity Scholarship. The LEAD program is a four-week summer program offered to high school seniors who are underrepresented minorities and interested in learning about business and economics. The Opportunity Scholarship offers need-based aid to underrepresented minorities enrolled in the Masters of Science in Information Program.
Blum said such programs provide strong evidence that, as the plaintiffs in the lawsuits contend, the University is irresponsible when it takes race into account in admissions, financial aid and other areas.
“The University of Michigan throughout … litigation has argued that they can be trusted to use race in a very discerning, light-handed way,” he said. “The discovery of these programs, in which race is a prerequisite, proves that the University is wedded to the idea of race and cannot be trusted … to narrowly tailor the use of race in their admissions policy.”
After receiving a similar letter from CEO last month, Princeton University decided to suspend a program in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy open only to junior-level minority students. At the time, Princeton officials said they feared that a lawsuit would be filed against the school.
It “is a program that would not be able to pass legal muster,” Princeton spokesman Robert Durkee said at the time.
A week later, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced that it would be open two of its pre-freshman summer programs to all students. Previously, the seven-week seminars focusing on preparing students in math and science had only accepted underrepresented minorities.