Volume 8 no. 1SUPREME COURT DENIES REVIEW OF MINORITY SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM
On May 22, 1995, the Supreme Court, without comment, denied review of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit's decision that the Benjamin Banneker scholarship program at the University of Maryland which is restricted to high achieving African-Am erican students violates the U.S. Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.
The Fourth Circuit in its unanimous decision stated:
"The issue in this case is whether the University of Maryland at College Park may maintain a separate merit scholarship that it voluntarily established for which only African-American students are eligible. Because we find that the district court er red in finding that the University had sufficient evidence of past discrimination to justify the program and in finding that the program is narrowly tailored to serve its stated objectives, we reverse the district court's grant of summary judgment to the University."
The District Court had found the Banneker scholarship program constitutional ruling that it was narrowly tailored to meet a compelling state interest and it addressed the present-day effects of the University's past discrimination, as documented by the Un iversity of Maryland. The University had identified four present day effects of the University's past discrimination: (1) the poor reputation of the university in the African-American community, particularly among parents and high-school counselors who i nfluence students' college choices; (2) underrepresentation of African-Americans in the student population; (3) low retention and graduation rates of African-Americans; and (4) perceptions of a campus climate that is hostile to African-Americans.
Reaction to the Supreme Court's Denial
> William E. Kirwan, President of the University of Maryland issued a statement expressing his deep sadness at the Supreme Court's decision not to review the 4th Circuit's ruling as the University of Maryland had requested. He went on to say:
"The Benjamin Banneker Scholarships were created in the late 1970s, under an Office of Civil Rights [of the U.S. Department of Education, formerly the Department of Health, Education and Welfare] order, to aid in dismantling, physically and psycholog ically, the state's segregated higher education system. To date, the Office of Civil Rights has not rescinded that order.
"The history of our segregated past continues to live in the minds of a significant segment of our population. These memories have made it very difficult to recruit African American students to an institution like ours without the use of incentive p rograms.... "Allowing the lower court ruling to stand sends a discouraging message to those who are working to remedy the present effects of past discrimination. It is especially ironic that a program with documented effectiveness in addressing accessibility wo uld be rejected by the Court at a time when southern states are struggling to put in place a more equitable educational system.
"We will, of course, respect and obey the order of the Court. However, we are unswerving in our commitment to make this the State university for all of Maryland's students."
The American Council of Education, an association of 1,600 higher education institutions and 200 associations and organizations, issued a statement expressing its disappointment at the Supreme Court's denial of review and asserting that "this case do es not signal a final ruling on the issue of minority scholarships, nor does it necessarily invalidate other such programs." Robert Atwell, president of ACE stated:
"The decision does not address the full range of circumstances in which minority scholarships have been established, nor does it address the use of such scholarships to achieve diversity, a goal that was held to be legitimate on educational grounds b y the Supreme Court in the Bakke case. While colleges and universities would be well advised to examine the specifics of the Podberesky decision,...we advise those that offer minority scholarships not to make undue changes in their programs , nor to abandon their efforts to enhance minority participation and success in higher education."
For further discussion of this case, see CIVIL RIGHTS MONITOR, vol. 7, nos. 6, 3, and 2.