WASHINGTON -- The debate over race-based scholarships has intensified, with Maryland Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, calling for the resignation of the federal official who penned the change in federal policy.
Educators and civil rights leaders also pressed President Bush yesterday to reverse the policy set by Michael L. Williams, an assistant secretary of education, which limits scholarship programs for minorities.
Williams sought to quell the storm earlier this week with his retreat from an initial order preventing colleges receiving federal funds from issuing scholarships based on race or ethnicity. He said funds from private donors and federal programs could be used for the scholarships, but colleges would not be allowed to use funds from general operating budgets.
But educators and civil rights leaders blasted the new policy in testimony before the House Education and Labor Committee and called on Congress to reverse the policy entirely if the Bush administration fails to take the proper action.
Mfume delivered a stinging message to Williams, saying he "should do the right thing and resign your position, move out of the way," so that the administration can establish a sound policy.
Williams invited further ire by refusing a request to testify before the committee. Rep. Augustus Hawkins, D-Calif., called Williams' failure to appear "an affront to the committee, to the Congress and to the American people."
Hawkins called the scholarship policy a misguided effort "to turn back the clock on equality."
White House sources said Williams' job is not in jeopardy, but emphasized that President Bush is anxious to put the controversy behind the administration without damaging Williams' credibility. The president reportedly has advised his staff to avoid fighting the larger battle over racial quotas with the scholarship issue.
It was seen as a partial victory for Williams and conservatives that the policy was only revised on Tuesday and not totally reversed, after the White House had led reporters to believe it would be overturned.
Marlin Fitzwater, the president's press secretary, sought to downplay the controversy yesterday, saying the president "believes these scholarships are important, that they've been helpful to minorities and should be preserved as best they can. And the Education Department has issued a new interpretation which tries to respond to that plea and yet preserve the legal requirements as best they see it."