Clinton Suggests Race-Based College Aid Be Re-Examined

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More than a year after his Administration settled a lingering public-policy question by issuing guidance declaring race-based scholarships legal, President Clinton has again thrust the issue into the spotlight.

Such scholarships fall into a "gray area" that needs to be re-examined, the President said at a March 3 news conference.

"The question is: If we're not for quotas in results, and we are for developing everyone's capacities, what do we do with all those rules and regulations and laws that really are in a gray area [such as] a minority scholarship?" Mr. Clinton said.

Education Department officials are reviewing the matter, along with other agency rules and regulations, as part of a governmentwide evaluation of affirmative-action policies that Mr. Clinton ordered in an effort to stave off expected Republican attacks.

Higher-education lobbyists said they were unsure what to make of the President's remarks.

"They were sufficiently ambiguous," said David R. Merkowitz, a spokesman for the American Council on Education. "You can always review policies," he said, but changing the Administration's position would "significantly reverse their legal staff."

Edward M. Elmendorf, the vice president for government relations for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said he would like "to see the issue get into a niche" where it is interpreted consistently.


However, Mr. Elmendorf noted, the legality of race-based aid will ultimately be determined by the U.S. Supreme Court. The University of Maryland is preparing an appeal to the High Court of a federal appeals-court ruling declaring such scholarships illegal.

In February 1994, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said race-exclusive scholarships could be used, among other conditions, to remedy past bias and to promote diversity. (See Education Week, Feb. 23, 1994.)

That interpretation differed from one issued in December 1991 by former Secretary Lamar Alexander, who said race could be one of several factors, such as financial need, in awarding aid. Race-exclusive scholarships could be used to remedy discrimination if ordered by the courts, he said.

For years, colleges had used such scholarships to increase access for minorities. They became a hot issue in December 1990, when Michael L. Williams, then the Education Department's assistant secretary for civil rights, said they violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Turning to another issue, President Clinton devoted a six-minute radio address the day after his affirmative-action remarks to efforts by House Republicans to eliminate the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program. He claimed that thousands of students would be harmed if lawmakers cut the nearly $500 million appropriated for the program in this fiscal year.

The President reiterated his willingness to work with the Republican-controlled Congress to reduce spending, but said he would not go along with cuts in education programs.

Vol. 14, Issue 25

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