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Rights Panel Urges Bush To BackRace-Exclusive Awards

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Washington--The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has encouraged President Bush to endorse the use of race-exclusive scholarships as a means of recruiting minority students for college and promoting cultural and ethnic diversity on campus.

The commission last month sent Mr. Bush a two-page letter outlining their concerns on the issue. Their position echoes similar calls over the past six weeks from business, political, education, and civil-rights leaders.

The independent panel's decision to send the letter came on a 5-to-2 vote, with one abstention.

Michael L. Williams, the Education Department's assistant secretary for civil rights, created what he later acknowledged was a "political firestorm" over the issue when he declared in December that, with certain exceptions, scholarships set aside for minorities violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Mr. Williams then amended his interpretation of the law to say that colleges and universities may offer such scholarships if they are financed by private money earmarked for that purpose. (See Education Week, Jan. 9, 1991.)

Numerous critics have challenged the policy--both on legal and moral grounds--and the civil-rights commission is only the latest.

In the letter, signed by Chairman Arthur A. Fletcher, the commission suggested that "the law permits educational institutions to make reasonable use of minority-targetedL8scholarships when necessary to Lovercome effects of discrimination or to achieve the legitimate and important goal of a culturally diverse student body."

The commission told Mr. Bush that "this area of vital national concern is too critical to America's future to be relegated to subcabinet-level pronouncements that leave an entire educational community confused." The letter noted that Mr. Bush vowed to make education one of his highest domestic priorities. "We urge you, therefore," the commissioners wrote, "to take a strong stand in support of affirmative action in the recruitment of minority students, including the use of minority-targeted scholarships where necessary to achieve either of two important national interests--remedying the efL fects of discrimination and attaining the benefits of a diverse student."

In addition to Mr. Fletcher, panel ists voting to send the letter were the commission's vice chairman, Charles Pei Wang, and Mary Fran ces Berry, Esther G.A. Buckley, and Russell G. Redenbaugh. William B. Allen and Carl A. Anderson voted against the move, while Blandina Cardenas-Ramirez, who directs the American Council on Education's office of minority concerns, abstained to avoid an appearance of conflict of interest.

Meanwhile, educators and civil-rights officials have expressed the hope that Secretary of Education designate Lamar Alexander will ex plain his thoughts on minority scholarships at his confirmation hearings, scheduled to begin this week.

The former Governor of Tennessee has said little on the subject, pend ing Senate action on his nominaL tion. But many representatives of education groups have said they are counting on the nominee to resolve the issue in their favor once he takes office.

If he does not, educators and civil- rights officials will back legislation sponsored by Senator Paul Simon, Democrat of Illinois, that would af firm the legality of minority scholar ships. This approach is seen by some as less desirable than a solution of fered by Mr. Alexander because they fear legislation might give the impression that the Congress is at tempting to reverse a correct inter pretation of the law.

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