Race-Based Scholarships Take Another Twist

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

IN its new stance on minority scholarships this week, the Bush administration made another in a series of race policy moves that has left both liberals and conservatives confused and wary.Education Secretary Lamar Alexander laid out a policy Wednesday redefining how race can be used in awarding scholarships. Invoking the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states that a person's race cannot exclude him from receiving the benefits of federally funded programs, the administration's new policy says that scholarships based on race are discriminatory. But at the same time, the policy outlined broad exceptions to the rule. Race-based scholarships can be legal, the policy says, when used to remedy proven discrimination or when private donors have given the money. Similarly, race may be a factor - though not the sole condition - in awarding scholarships. The immediate response was confusion among higher education officials, civil rights attorneys, and the media. "I don't think the Bush administration has a clear idea of where it is on civil rights," said Richard Sampson, chief counsel for the Washington Legal Foundation, which has brought suits challenging minority-targeted scholarships. "Alexander wants a colorblind ideal ... that's shared in the administration, but perhaps they don't have the courage of their conviction to carry out a colorblind policy because they could get branded a new David Duke ... ," says Mr. Sampson. Albert Blumrosen, a Rutgers University law professor and former Equal Employment Opportunity Commission official, observes that a series of Bush administration missteps almost ensures that any administration move now on the issue will be criticized as politically tinged. The White House has had trouble determining a policy. For example, last month, the White House counsel drafted a conservative colorblind interpretation of the new Civil Rights Act, only to have the president reject it. And Wednesday's statement was the third policy change in a year on minority scholarships. Mr. Blumrosen says the new policy appears to have been calculated to "give the general principle [colorblind policy] to the reactionaries" while at the same time offering "ways to get around it to the liberals." "I'm not prepared to say the situation is awful or wonderful ... we'll advise our institutions to continue [with race-exclusive scholarships]," said Peter Robert Atwell, president of the American Council on Education. Phyllis McClure, director of policy at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, is concerned that recruitment of minority students will suffer because of the confusion over the policy.

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