COLUMBIA - An MU summer workshop for minority students was opened to all students after a lawsuit accused the Dow Jones-sponsored program of racial discrimination.
The Missouri Urban Journalism Workshop, previously known as Dow Jones AHANA Workshop, dropped race from its admission requirements this summer. Doris Barnhart, an MU administrative assistant who works with the workshop, said that until this year, the workshop was strictly for minorities.
The changes followed a federal lawsuit against the Dow Jones minority program, which is held at other schools in addition to MU. The lawsuit was filed by the national Center for Individual Rights, an organization against affirmative action.
The action against the Urban Journalism Workshop is part of a bigger movement to stop the use of race as a requirement in higher education.
In a similar action, the Center for Equal Opportunity filed a complaint against MU with the federal Office for Civil Rights as part of its effort to stop race-based requirements in universities across the country. The center, a national organization that works against affirmative action and promotes assimilation of immigrants, filed the complaint in March 2005, alleging illegal race discrimination in MU’s financial aid programs.
“There are a number of programs at the University of Missouri that are racially exclusive, meaning that you cannot participate in them if you don’t belong to a specific racial or ethnic group,” said center President Roger Clegg.
The center specifically made the complaint against scholarships and financial aid for minority students. It has also filed complaints with the Office for Civil Rights against Washington University in St. Louis, Saint Louis University, Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., and others, Clegg said.
These actions are part of nationwide efforts to rid higher education of government-sponsored race- and gender-based requirements for programs and scholarships.
The Missouri Civil Rights Initiative is a proposed amendment to the state constitution, slated for the November 2008 ballot, that would prohibit the government from granting preferential treatment based on race or gender. The amendment is supported by a coalition of people from across the state who claim socio-economic status considered instead of race as a way to determine status in programs, according to the Web site missouricri.org. The site also says the initiative would affect public education, public employment and public contracting.
Clegg said he agrees with the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative. He said the minority programs at MU and other universities that the center has challenged, usually aimed at bringing diversity to the institutions, are racially exclusive because a student must belong to a particular ethnic group to participate.
“You can’t even apply unless you are the right skin color,” he said. “It’s often not just white students that are being told they can’t apply — it’s other minority students, too.”
Clegg claims the programs are not fair or legal, but MU officials said they are obeying the law.
“I think the general consensus from the university is that we are following the law, and if the law changes, the university will change,” said Jeffrey Williams, MU’s director of access and urban outreach.
Noel English, MU’s director of equity, said complaints are filed with the university routinely.
“None of the complaints that I’ve ever worked on we’ve been found in violation of anything,” she said.
English said she deals with external complaints, and her job is to fix programs if there are problems. She said she thinks the university is in full compliance with the law in regards to the complaint filed by the Center for Equal Opportunity, and she does not expect to make any changes in MU’s programming.
English also said she would like to resolve issues at the lowest level, before they escalate.
“If we’re not doing right, I think someone should tell us,” she said. “We want to be following the law and doing things right in this case and every case.”
U.S. Department of Education spokesman Jim Bradshaw said in an e-mail that MU has violated Office for Civil Rights regulations twice since 1995. One case in 1999 addressed gender discrimination resulting from pre-admission inquiries on applications concerning marital status. Another case in 2000 addressed problems concerning auxiliary aids and services for deaf students. In both cases, the university entered into a voluntary agreement to fix the concerns, and the agreements were fully implemented. English did not work on either complaint.
The Center for Equal Opportunity filed its complaint in 2005, two years after the center wrote a letter to MU asking it to drop race-based requirements for minority programs, including the MAP Program and the Multicultural Teaching Scholars program. University officials have supported the programs, saying they did not violate the law.
The MAP Program provides support for students to aid their academic progress and connect them to university resources. Scholarships are available for minority students, but any student can enter into the MAP participation agreement, which provides ongoing support for the student.
Andre Thorn, the program’s assistant director, said about 30 to 35 students decide to join the MAP participation agreement throughout a semester, but their target audience is students who have received the scholarships.
The participants in the Multicultural Teaching Scholars program teach a course during one of MU’s summer sessions. The program is aimed at recruiting minorities to MU’s academic programs during the summer, and the scholars must be part of an underrepresented group in graduate education. Scholars also receive a $5,500 stipend for participating in the program, according to its Web site.
Clegg said many universities opened their programs to all students after the center raised its concerns, but because MU did not, the center filed the complaint.He said the complaint was not filed to stop any of the programs, only to stop the discrimination.
“We’re sure these financial programs are wonderful, and we don’t want them to end,” Clegg said. “We just want them to be open (to everyone).”