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CAMPUS CORRESPONDENT : Discrimination Under the Guise of Opportunity

<i> Aimee Rinehart is an assistant editor at U. The National College Magazine</i>

Daniel Podberesky, a straight-A high-school student, satisfied every requirement for a Benjamin Banneker Scholarship at the University of Maryland, except ethnicity. For 16 years, the university, which has a reputation for aggressively recruiting minorities, has annually awarded more than 80 of the scholarships--to blacks only. Podberesky is Latino.

Podberesky, who was refused an application for the scholarship in 1990, has sued for $35,000, plus $1 million in legal fees. Richard A. Samp, Podberesky’s lawyer and chief counsel for the conservative Washington Legal Foundation, contends the University of Maryland violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits recipients of federal funds from discriminating on the basis of race, color or national origin. The suit may end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Banneker scholarship discriminates under the guise of opportunity. Good students like Podberesky are denied financial assistance because they are not the right color. But more serious problems face minorities in higher education.

Scholarships like the Banneker provided the shot in the arm that universities were looking for after the NAACP filed discrimination suits against 13 states--including Maryland--in 1970. By any means necessary, the universities scrambled to recruit from within, or outside of, Title VI. When black enrollment figures in higher education more than tripled during 1960-85, universities declared themselves successful.

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But beginning in 1985, the number of incoming black students began to level off. In 1993, black enrollment hovered between 11.9% and 12.2%.

Educators want you to pay attention to the rise in black enrollment, not its leveling off. They say, “Look how far we’ve come,” instead of asking, “Why are we not growing?” This misplacement of emphasis, unfortunately, has halted the search for effective solutions to enduring problems in education, particularly concerning minorities. These solutions require too much time, too much money and don’t give lawmakers and universities quick enough results.

The University of Maryland boasts a black population of 13% out of a total 35,000 students. Between 1988 and 1993, black faculty, administration and associate staff increased by 25%. Since 1992, the university has placed in the top four among U.S. colleges awarding the most degrees to black undergraduates attending predominantly white schools.

Even so, problems persist at the college. In court statements defending its Banneker scholarship, the University of Maryland described the racial atmosphere on campus as “hostile” and one cause for a high dropout rate among blacks. The program, which has awarded more than 482 full scholarships, apparently has not helped to foster an environment in which to learn. How likely are students to attend a university that defines its own racial climate as “hostile"--unless they are given a “free” ride?

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Unfortunately, no one is addressing education discrimination at the primary and secondary levels, which directly affects higher education. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley claims that with race-based scholarships, the doors to post-secondary education will “remain open for minority students.”

But when primary and secondary education in inner cities is underfunded, understaffed and overcrowded, the doors to higher education will remain locked to most. Only when we eliminate discrimination at all levels of education, can unfair solutions like Banneker scholarship be challenged.*


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