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Last Updated December 20, 2000

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CIR Fights 'Whites Only' Scholarships in Alabama

Scholarship 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 and Alabama.

          "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 whites.

          "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)
[link http://www.cir-usa.org/wsjtomk.htm ]


CIR Victory Against Racial Preferences at University of Michigan

December 13, 2000:  University of Michigan Preferences Ruled Unconstitutional

          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.


Archival Stories

[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 admissions procedures.

          "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)
[former link *http://www.michigandaily.com/daily/1999/may/05-04-99/news/news2.html ]

[Feb. 20, 1999, Associated Press]  UW 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, 02/20/99)
[link http://www.spokane.net/news-story-body.asp?Date=022099&ID=s534225&cat= ]

[Feb. 20, 1999, Associated Press]  UW deletes race from admissions, substitutes other factors
          "Checking the 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 considered.

          "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)
[link http://flash.oregonlive.com/cgi-bin/or_nview.pl?/home1/wire/
AP/Stream-Parsed/OREGON_NEWS/o1373_AM_WA--UW-Diversity
]

[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)
[link http://www.seattletimes.com/news/education/html98/univ_021599.html ]

[Feb. 11, 1999, Associated Press]  Scope of Reverse Discrimination Suit Against UW Law School Narrowed
          "A reverse 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)
[link http://flash.oregonlive.com/cgi-bin/or_nview.pl?/home1/wire/AP/
Stream-Parsed/OREGON_NEWS/o1586_PM_WA--UWLawSchool
]

[Feb. 10, 1999, Center for Individual Rights]  Court Says I-200 Moots Portions of UW Race Preferences Lawsuit
          [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 action proceeding.

          "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)
[link http://www.wdn.com/cir/sthpr2.htm ]

[Jan. 26, 1999, Associated Press]   Racial preference 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 admissions.

          "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)
[former link **http://www.foxnews.com/js_index.sml?content=/news/wires2/0126/n_ap_0126_277.sml]

[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)
[link http://www.ceousa.org/warp.html ]

[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 to come.

          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 UM’s 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 reverse discrimination!

          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 CIR’s earlier suit pertaining to UM’s 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 School’s 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/


CIR 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 Lawsuit


END News from the Center for Individual Rights

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*  We use the term reverse discrimination reluctantly and only because it is so widely understood.  In our opinion there really is only one kind of discrimination.