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Federal File: Overlooked oaths; Scholarship shuffle

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After months of waiting, members of the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans finally have had their official White House swearing-in.

Dates for the event last September and December fell through. That caused some grumbling among the commissioners, who were eventually installed by affidavit.

Last week, though, Vice President Gore conducted the long-awaited ceremony for the 24 commissioners in the Indian Treaty Room of the Old Executive Office Building. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley--who had invited the commissioners as distinguished guests to his "state of American education" address the same day--was also there.

The Vice President started off his prepared remarks acknowledging the scheduling difficulties: "They were starting to call this 'the little ceremony that couldn't.' It's a little cold for the Rose Garden today, but we're finally going to do this, and we're going to do it right."

To make the event complete, the commissioners also met the day before with President Clinton for a half-hour photo session.

The University of Maryland has suspended an embattled scholarship program for black students, waiting for a signal from the U.S. Supreme Court on how to treat the program.

By suspending the Benjamin Banneker scholarships, the university complied with a recent federal appeals-court ruling that declared such race-exclusive aid unconstitutional.

While the issue is being decided, administrators are combining the Banneker scholarship, which provided $1.1 million to about 35 students annually, with the Francis Scott Key scholarship program, which provides about $1.3 million to about 35 students annually.

The Key scholarship is open to all students, as will be the new scholarship. Criteria for the new award will include a student's academic performance and leadership qualities, teacher recommendations, and the institution's desire for a diverse student body.

A spokesman for the university said the new program will not set aside specific scholarships for black students, but the criteria should help provide a more diverse group of recipients.

University officials said they will reinstate the Banneker award if the High Court allows it.

--Lynn Schnaiberg & Mark Pitsch

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