|The Latest News from the
Center for Individual Rights
Last Updated December 20, 2000
Be sure to visit the CIR Web Site for the absolute latest
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Fights 'Whites Only' Scholarships in Alabama
Program For Whites Becomes A Test of Preferences (posted 09/29/99)
"An African-American School Sees Gains in Diversity; Then Black Student Sues --
A Different Spin on Merit" (CIR, from Wall Street Journal)
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- "A few years ago, a
federal judge concluded that Alabama's state universities still were largely segregated
and ordered them to do more to bring diversity to their campuses.
"That's how it happens that Jessie Thompkins , a black man who grew up attending
segregated schools, is suing Alabama State University, a historically black university
that was founded by freed slaves, over its $1 million-a-year scholarship program. A
program, as it turns out, that is open only to whites.
"To Mr. Thompkins, the issue is a simple one: "They said I have to be white and
I can't be." But as the courts and public opinion force affirmative action into
steady retreat, America's dialogue about preferences is anything but simple. It ricochets
from the inviolability of merit to the benefits of diversity, and from the desire to right
old wrongs to the fear of creating new ones.
"In Washington state, a white woman who comes from a one-parent household, worked her
way through community college and earned a master's degree sued when she says she was
denied a place in law school because preferential admission was given to blacks. But in
California and Texas, minority applications and admissions to law school have plummeted
since preferences were ended this fall; new classes suddenly are overwhelmingly white.
"In Prince George's County, Md., black parents are suing the school district because
it reserves seats, at magnet schools with a majority of black students, for white
children. In Buffalo, white parents are suing the school district because it reserves
seats, at an honors school that already has a lot of white students, for black children.
"It's illegal for a university that gets public funding to discriminate by race. But
what about historically black public universities, which have been an avenue to success
for generations of African-Americans? Can they be required to integrate themselves out of
their historical mission? That, in part, is at issue in lawsuits in Georgia, Mississippi
"Indeed, few cases put affirmative action in as stark a light as does the Jessie
Thompkins case. In a state where "whites only" signs hung over public facilities
only a few decades ago, a whites-only scholarship turns history on its head. "It's
strange," says Mr. Thompkins. "You have a historically black institution giving
scholarships to whites to remedy discrimination."
"The remedy that Mr. Thompkins is challenging had its start in 1981, when Clarence
Thomas -- then at the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights and now a leading
opponent of affirmative action on the Supreme Court -- concluded after a long
investigation that "vestiges" of segregation remained at the state's
universities. Almost no one was surprised.
"In 1963, Alabama's flagship university, the University of Alabama, was integrated
with the help of federal troops in one of the most dramatic confrontations of the
civil-rights movement. But two decades later, the state's 13 historically white public
universities still were largely white -- and continued to house the state's professional
schools and most of its graduate programs. The two historically black universities still
were overwhelmingly black.
"In 1985, with the support of the Justice Department, a group of Alabama State
students sued Alabama in an effort to force it to devote more money, and to direct new
programs, to the black schools. After a decade of litigation, a federal judge did that and
more: In an effort to attract more whites to Alabama State and Alabama A&M University,
the judge ordered each to spend $1 million a year in new state funding on scholarships for
"A General Accounting Office study in 1994 found that, nationwide, about 5% of all
undergraduate grants were so-called minority-targeted or race-exclusive scholarships. But
almost always, the race has been African-American, Hispanic, Pacific Islander or Native
American -- not white.
"Alabama State was founded as Abraham Lincoln Normal School in 1867 for training
black teachers, and for the first 100 years of its existence, it was prevented by state
law from enrolling whites. But more than that kept the school segregated: It wasn't
accredited until 1966, it offered only one master's-degree program, and it was chronically
short of money.
"Alabama State was convinced that its future depended on enrolling more whites --
otherwise, it risked a merger with a nearby historically white campus -- so it decided to
make the scholarship program even broader than that ordered by the court. It added
$229,000 of its own money, and offered scholarships even to out-of-state white students.
In the 1996-1997 school year, after a year of struggling to get the program running, the
university awarded 40% of its budget for academic grants to whites. That provided for 671
scholarships -- one for almost every white on the campus of 5,419 students.
"Mr. Thompkins, who is 38 years old, wasn't even born yet when Rosa Parks made
Montgomery the epicenter of the civil-rights movement in 1956 by refusing to move to the
back of a Montgomery bus. Still, he speaks of growing up in fear of the Ku Klux Klan; of
the racial ugliness that accompanied the integration of Alabama's high schools; of the
time his family fled their home in Marion, Ala., because of tensions over a visit to town
by Ralph Abernathy, the civil-rights leader.
"Small and wiry, Mr. Thompkins had the fastest time in the nation among high-school
hurdlers in the 400-meters in his senior year, and went on to the University of South
Alabama, a predominantly white college, on an athletic scholarship. In 1991 -- after
graduating from South Alabama, getting a master's degree in sports coaching, running on
the track team of a gym-shoe manufacturer, and student teaching for a year -- Mr.
Thompkins enrolled in Alabama State's graduate program in education.
"The university gave him graduate assistantships for three years and promised him, he
says, that the scholarship would continue until he graduated. When he went to apply for
the grant in 1995, though, Mr. Thompkins says he was told the only scholarships available
were reserved for whites. His recollection of the incident: "I said, `Ma'am?' She
said, `You can apply, but you won't get it.' I said, `Well!'"
"Almost as galling, he says, was that the whites-only scholarships paid for tuition,
books, fees, and room and board -- about $6,400 a year -- and also included $900 a year
for "incidentals." In return for his grants, which varied from $3,500 to $5,000
a year, Mr. Thompkins says he helped coach the university track teams and clerked at the
school tennis courts.
"To qualify for some of the white scholarships, moreover, students need only a C
average, and don't even necessarily have to have a high-school diploma; a GED certificate,
for General Education Development, is acceptable, too. Brandon Tanksley II, editor of the
university newspaper, talks of campus disquiet over the scholarships with the very words
that conservatives are using to decry affirmative action at predominantly white
universities. "It's not that they're minority students," -- by which he means
whites" -- it's that they're not competitive," says Mr. Tanksley.
"William Hamilton Harris, the president of Alabama State, won't talk about Mr.
Thompkins' scholarship applications except to say that "he has had more scholarships
than anybody, ever, in the history of Alabama State." (A lawyer for Mr. Thompkins
says, "That doesn't matter. He was denied this scholarship because of his
race.") And the academic qualifications of the whites is irreproachable, he adds. The
university even hints it may compare the grades of its white and black students in court.
"Without a scholarship, Mr. Thompkins dropped out of school in 1995 and took a job
sorting packages at United Parcel Service to support his wife and four young sons. In 1996
and 1997, he returned as a part-time student, applied for scholarships again, and again
was rejected. A dozen black lawyers whom he contacted about filing a discrimination case
all had been involved in the 1985 suit that ultimately produced the whites-only
scholarships, and they turned him away because of conflicts of interest, he says.
"Last summer, the Center for Individual Rights finally filed a suit on his behalf and
three other Alabama State students. The conservative law group earlier forced the
University of Texas law school to drop racial preferences in its admissions; it also filed
the University of Washington case and a similar challenge to affirmative action at the
University of Michigan. Mr. Thompkins compares himself to Cheryl Hopwood, the plaintiff in
the Texas case, even though she was a white woman seeking admission to a predominantly
white school. "We were bumped aside, regardless of our qualifications, because of our
race," he says.
"Alabama State's president, Mr. Harris, agrees with Mr. Thompkins on the irony of
white scholarships in a state long given to black exclusion. "It's a twist, a
reversal," he says. But any agreement he has with Mr. Thompkins ends there.
"Tall and elegant, Mr. Harris is a historian, has written three books on blacks in
the labor force, and served as the president of two other colleges before coming here.
Even so, he talks of his fear of being stopped some night on a traffic violation and
finding his reputation and academic standing subsumed by racial stereotype. "It's
still there in our country," he says, that meanness about color.
"Civil-rights groups suggest that a common thread in recent federal-court rulings on
affirmative action is that three decades of such remedies as preferences and diversity
plans have overcome prejudice in schools, in contracting and on the job, so now they can
be abandoned. But Mr. Harris sees less progress toward racial equity than do the courts --
"I grew up in a segregated era in the South; I know," he says. He argues that if
the country needs doctors and lawyers of every race, then it also needs affirmative action
to help some of them get there.
"No small part of his resolve to defend the white scholarships is the fear that if
they are ruled unlawful, then minority scholarships at other schools could be vulnerable,
too. "The need for set-asides for blacks hasn't run its course," he says. But
there are other, subtler benefits of the grants: Bringing whites and blacks together on
campus "will broaden the quality of education and the quality of life at Alabama
State," he says.
"Joseph King, a white student, perhaps proves the point. After his florist shop
burned down, he enrolled at Alabama State, wanting to fulfill his lifelong dream of
becoming a teacher. Only after he had been admitted did he learn of the scholarships.
"He applied and got one, noting that "only a fool would turn down money."
"Mr. King, 34, graduated with a 3.98 grade-point average and now has applied for
another scholarship to attend graduate school at Alabama State. "I made a lot of
friends that I wouldn't have met otherwise," he says. He did his student teaching at
an all-black elementary school, and if a job came open at another black school, well,
"race doesn't matter," he says.
"In his modest home just off the Alabama State campus, Mr. Thompkins clings to the
same notion -- that race doesn't matter -- to argue the other side of the
affirmative-action debate. "We don't need race-based quotas," he says. "I
don't want anyone telling my children they're the wrong color. If you want something, you
work for it; you just work for it."
"Mr. Thompkins expects to graduate from Alabama State this spring as a specialist in
education, the highest education degree the university offers. His case, tied up in
motions, still is a long way from trial. Next, he says, he's thinking of going to law
school. (CIR supplied this copy of Wall Street Journal article by June Kronholz)
Victory Against Racial Preferences at University of Michigan
December 13, 2000: University of Michigan Preferences Ruled
Victory! A Federal District
Court Judge in Detroit, Michigan ruled today that the University of Michigan's two-tiered
admissions system which gave preference to minority students was unconstitutional.
For a complete discussion of this historic case visit Adversity.Net's University of Michigan News.
[May 4, 1999, The Michigan Daily] UM and CIR File Motions for Summary Judgment (dead link)
"The University filed
two summary judgment motions yesterday in federal court asking judges to make a decision
on two lawsuits challenging University admissions procedures.
"In October 1997, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Individual Rights filed a
lawsuit on behalf of two students who claim their applications for admission to the
University's College of Literature, Science and the Arts were unfairly evaluated because
of the use of race as a factor in the admissions process.
"CIR later filed a second similar suit, targeting the University Law School's
"University Deputy General Counsel Elizabeth Barry said the summary judgment motion
presents the University's expert testimony, outlines main arguments and asks the judge to
form a decision based on the motion. She said that rebuttal motions will be filed
for the next few months preceding oral arguments in the cases, which she expects will be
heard in July at U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit.
"Terry Pell, CIR's senior legal counsel, said he would not comment on the
University's summary judgment motions until he had a chance to read them. Pell said
CIR filed its summary judgment motion in the Law School admissions lawsuit
yesterday." (The Michigan Daily 05/04/99 by Michael Grass)
[Feb. 20, 1999, Associated
reverse discrimination trial delayed
"The trial in a
reverse discrimination lawsuit stemming from now-abandoned University of Washington Law
School admission policies has been postponed pending appeals of pretrial rulings.
"The case brought by Katuria Smith, Angela Rock and Michael Pyle had been set for
trial next Monday before U.S. District Judge Thomas S. Zilly.
"Instead, Zilly agreed to wait until the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals acts on
challenges brought by the trio's lawyers from the Center for Individual Rights, a
nonprofit group in Washington, D.C., that opposes [race-based admissions] policies.
"The Center for Individual Rights is appealing a ruling by Zilly a week ago that
cited a landmark Supreme Court decision in a University of California-Davis medical school
admissions case in 1978.
"In that case, the high court held that maintaining separate admission tracks for
whites and minorities would be illegal but that a university could legally seek to achieve
``educational diversity'' by using race as one factor among many in admissions. On
that basis, Zilly dismissed the trio's claim that promoting racial diversity in a student
body is not a compelling state interest.
"Center [for Individual Rights] lawyers have cited a decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals in 1996 which held that the 1978 ruling no longer is good case law and
that University of Texas admissions policies to boost enrollment of blacks and Mexican
Americans constituted an illegal bias against whites." (AP, via Spokane Net,
[Feb. 20, 1999, Associated Press] UW
deletes race from admissions, substitutes other factors
minority box on a freshman application for the University of Washington won't help a
student get admitted. Under Initiative 200, passed last fall, race and gender can't be
"In a bid to encourage diversity despite the initiative, which essentially ended
affirmative action in school admissions and government contracting and hiring, the UW has
revised a list of six factors that also will be considered.
"So demonstrating 'cultural awareness' or a history of 'overcoming personal
adversity' in a personal essay, for example, could help an applicant get in. All
freshman applications include such an essay, and admissions officers will award points to
those who recognize the complexities of American society. Admissions materials say
students 'who understand the richness of their own cultural heritage, or have developed an
understanding of other cultures ... are uniquely qualified to contribute to the
university's academic programs.' " (AP, via Oregon Live, 02/20/99)
[Seattle Times, 02/15/99] Universities
review non-racist scholarships
"The state's two
largest universities may soon have to stop offering scholarships specifically targeted to
women or minority students.
"The University of Washington and Washington State University have set up task forces
to review how the schools' minority scholarship programs will be affected by Initiative
200. The task forces are supposed to make a final decision this month.
"The task forces are working under the advice of the Attorney General's Office, which
told them that minority scholarships are covered by the restrictions of the initiative,
according to university officials.
" 'It is safe to say that the ability to accept new money for scholarships based on
race is severely limited. Indeed, it no longer exists,' said Ernest Morris, UW vice
president for student affairs and a member of the UW's diversity advisory
committee." (Seattle Times, by Roberto Sanchez, 02/15/99)
[Feb. 11, 1999, Associated Press] Scope of Reverse Discrimination Suit Against UW Law School Narrowed
discrimination lawsuit against the University of Washington Law School no longer can be a
class action because of Initiative 200, a federal judge has ruled. Only the damage
claims of Katuria E. Smith and two others who brought the case will be considered, U.S.
District Court Judge Thomas S. Zilly decided Wednesday.
"One goal of the suit, filed in March 1997, was to bar the university from giving
minority applicants special consideration in admissions. She and the other two plaintiffs
also sought unspecified damages.
"On Nov. 3 the initiative banning race and gender preferences in state contracting,
hiring and school admissions won passage on a 58 percent statewide vote. University
president Richard McCormick announced the next day that the university would no longer use
race in admissions.
" 'What the court basically said is that the citizens of the state of Washington did
its job for it,' said Steven Hemmat, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. Legal experts said
the ruling practically eliminates any chance that the case could affect the national legal
battle over affirmative action." (AP, via Oregon Live, 02/11/99)
[Feb. 10, 1999, Center for Individual
Rights] Court Says I-200 Moots Portions of UW Race
[Press release from CIR]
"U.S. District Court Judge Thomas S. Zilly today ruled that the passage of
I-200 by Washington State voters last November renders moot portions of CIR's legal
challenge of current admissions procedures. Plaintiffs Katuria Smith, Angela Rock, and
Michael Pyle still will be able to challenge the constitutionality of the UW admissions
system used at the time of their applications and will be able to obtain damages if that
system is determined to be unlawful.
"CIR had sought a declaration by the court that the defendants continue to
unconstitutionally discriminate on the basis of race and had requested the court to issue
an injunction forbidding the law school to use illegal racial preferences in admissions.
Because state law now forbids the law school to "grant preferential treatment to any
individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin,"
Judge Zilly concluded that these portions of CIR's lawsuit now were moot.
"Judge Zilly also de-certified the lawsuit as a class action, holding that claims for
injunctive and declaratory relief were necessary for the lawsuit to continue as a class
"CIR had argued that the case should proceed in its entirety in view of the fact that
state officials continue to disagree about the scope of racial preferences banned by
I-200. CIR is reviewing Judge Zilly's order and will determine at the appropriate time
whether to appeal some or all of it." (CIR 02/10/99)
[Jan. 26, 1999, Associated Press]
foes increase pressure on colleges (dead link)
"They say the color of their
skin kept them out of the schools of their choice. Now, Katuria Smith, a white former law
school candidate from Washington state, and Jessie Tompkins, a black college student from
Alabama, are in court.
" 'I want a future where students can apply ... without worrying that their skin
color will keep them out,' said Smith, whose case against the University of Washington law
school, which denied her admission, goes to trial next month.
"Smith spoke Tuesday at a news conference sponsored by conservative groups to launch
a campaign charging the nation's top colleges with illegally using racial preferences in
"The Center for Individual Rights a conservative private law firm handling the
cases for Smith and Tompkins is running ads in student newspapers headlined
"Guilty by Admission'' that say nearly every elite college in the United States
violates the law. The center also issued two 30-page handbooks, it says, to help students
identify discrimination and to help institutions keep from getting sued.
" 'We've found use of racial ethnic preference in all of the states. The more
selective schools tend to use preferences the most,' said Roger Clegg, general
counsel for the group". (AP, via FoxNews, 01/26/99, by Anjetta Mcqueen)
[Sept. 17, 1998, CEO] UW and WSU Practice
Unconstitutional 'Reverse Racism' in Admissions
A recent study released by the Center for Equal Opportunity reveals some amazing
"reverse racist" statistics in the student admissions of the University of
Washington and Washington State University. SAT scores and Grade Point Averages of
minorities selected for admission are significantly lower than whites selected for
admission. (Center for Equal Opportunity, Posted 9/17/98)
[Feb. 8, 1998 Adversity.Net]
The Center for Individual Rights (CIR) has recently filed two ground-breaking law suits
seeking to end racial preferences in student admissions at the University of Michigan. All
of the early indications are that the law suits will be decided favorably, i.e., student
admissions will have to be decided on a color-blind basis rather than on race.
Tremendous media attention has been focused on the two CIR lawsuits: Time Magazine, The
Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, U.S. News, USA Today, The New York Times, and even the
liberal Washington Post have all devoted considerable coverage to these lawsuits by CIR.
These cases are destined to set important precedents in college admissions for many years
On October 14, 1997 CIR sued the University of Michigan, seeking to declare their
undergraduate admissions policies unconstitutional. Two students, Jennifer Gratz and
Patrick Hamacher, were denied admission to UMs undergraduate program because they
were not the right color. Student admissions data from UM clearly show that non-minority
applicants with higher test scores were denied admission in favor of minority applicants
with lower test scores. The plaintiffs (Gratz and Hamacher) seek not only admission to UM,
but damages for having their civil rights violated. Early indications are that the courts
will decide in favor of the plaintiffs, and another blow will have been struck against
On December 3, 1997, CIR filed a second lawsuit, a class action, against the University of
Michigan Law School seeking to have that school's admissions policies declared
unconstitutional. This lawsuit followed CIRs earlier suit pertaining to UMs
undergraduate admissions policies. Ms. Barbara Grutter applied to the University of
Michigan law school. Barbara Grutter is not a minority, and her application was rejected
in favor of minority students whose test scores and other academic qualifications were
lower than hers. Based on the UM Law Schools own records, the only reason Barbara
Grutter was denied admission was because of her race. According to University of Michigan
admissions data, "Caucasian American" candidates with Ms. Grutter's credentials
(LSAT score of 161 and grade point average of 3.81) had an admission rate of just 8.6%.
"African American" applicants with exactly the same credentials had an admission
rate of 100 %. The evidence is incontrovertible!
See Also: Washington Post's Feb.
20, 1998 Story on CIR.
Also be sure to visit CIR's Web Site at: http://www.cir-usa.org/
Launches Student Handbook on Racial Preferences
[Jan. 27, 1999 Adversity.Net]
This week the Center for Individual Rights launced a national advertising campaign
aimed at students attending colleges and universities which may (are probably) practicing
illegal racial preferences in student admissions. The CIR launched full page
advertisements in 15 college papers this week, offering a free download (or via mail-in)
of a Handbook to guide students and/or trustees in examining their school's probable use
of race-based admissions criteria.
For more information, or to download the handbooks:
See: CIR Handbook
See Also: Current News (Victory) about U of Michigan
from the Center for Individual Rights