The NAACP is considering a legal challenge to a new U.S. Department of Education policy that halts distribution of scholarships earmarked for minority students because they limit equal opportunity.
Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called the strategy, "a crude and blatant attempt to seriously, if not kill outright, the well-intentioned efforts of a number of colleges and universities to provide educational opportunities for minority students."
Hooks vowed yesterday to fight the directive and said he ordered the NAACP's attorneys to study whether to legally challenge it.
Meanwhile, higher education administrators in the state were trying to get more information on the new policy that was mandated last week by Michael L. Williams, Department of Education assistant secretary for civil rights.
The ruling was announced after Williams learned that $200,000 in scholarship funds for minority students would be contributed to the University of Alabama and the University of Louisville by officials of the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., where the schools' football teams will play on New Year's Day. Such scholarship funding and earmarking fosters discrimination, Williams said in Washington yesterday.
"Education is the foundation of equal opportunity," Williams said. "Americans have used education as the building blocks to achieve their expectations and dreams of a better life. The goal that I hope to accomplish . . . is to ensure that discrimination does not block access to educational opportunity, that discrimination not be allowed to put opportunity out of reach."
Arizona has come under scrutiny because voters there defeated a proposal to create a holiday Jan. 15, Martin Luther King's birthday. The National Football League has threatened to withdrew the 1993 Super Bowl from Phoenix as a result.
Michael Hooker, president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, said he is trying to figure out how much impact the new policy will have on his institution and the 11-campus UM system.
"It's flabbergasting," Hooker said. "This flies in the face of what we've been trying to do for the past 20 years for minorities in education. Clearly, this is not acceptable. You'll hear wails of protest and we're going to sit back and wait and see."
Roz Hiebert, University of Maryland College Park spokeswoman, said all the campuses in the system are operating under a desegregation plan approved by the Maryland Higher Education Commission and that the minority scholarships are part of that effort.
"The university has operated the [Benjamin] Banneker [science scholarship] program pursuant to a federally mandated desegregation plan designed to overcome the past discrimination policy of the university," Hiebert said. "The university believes the program is lawful and since the university has not yet seen this report, we can't comment on it."
Johns Hopkins University President William Richardson said he also would seek legal advice on how best to challenge the federal policy.
"I think it's the wrong signal at the wrong time," Richardson said. "Financial aid is the single most important factor in allowing minority students to attend colleges and universities."
The decision "could restrict institutions in their efforts to address historic inequities we've been working hard to correct, and we need to work hard to get the decision to be reversed or modified," he said.
In addition, Richardson said, "We have been working hard to increase the amount of student aid available based on need, but also its availability to minority students."
He said Hopkins received a Ford Foundation grant of $150,000 and raised an additional $50,000 to supplement that to help minority students with special living expenses. There also is a minority summer program funded by the Pew Charitiable Trust that provides expenses associated with a program that brings minority freshmen to campus during the summer to ease their transition to campus life.
At Morgan State University, a historically black institution that is not a part of the UM system, President Earl S. Richardson said the Williams policy would affect white students because they constitute a minority, or 5 percent, of Morgan's enrollment.
"We call them other-race grants," Richardson said. "And we have used them to promote diversity on campus. This is very devastating."