WASHINGTON -- Evidently eager to quell further public controversy about minority scholarships, Lamar Alexander, the new education secretary, says that universities and colleges should continue allowing scholarships reserved for specific ethnic groups while the Education Department reviews the issue.
"We want to make one thing absolutely clear in this," said Alexander, a former two-term governor of Tennessee and president of the University of Tennessee.
"We're for the disadvantaged. We want you in, not out. Colleges and universities should keep doing what they're doing."
The six-month review should "clear up confusion about to what extent a student's race or national origin may be considered as a factor in awarding financial aid," said Alexander, adding that once the review is finished the department would help colleges and universities "make adjustments if there are any adjustments to be made."
He made his announcement a week earlier than expected at a news conference yesterday. It began 45 minutes before a hearing on the issue before a subcommittee of the House Government Operations Committee.
Because Alexander had said that procedures for investigating such scholarships would be announced next week, he was asked if his announcement was undercutting the impact of the committee's hearings.
He replied, "That would be all right if that happened."
Alexander was accompanied by Michael L. Williams, the Education Department's assistant secretary for civil rights, who began the controversy in December when he warned officials of the Fiesta Bowl, a college football game in Arizona, that if they set aside $100,000 for a fund for minority scholarships they would violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
That law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex and national origin by institutions that receive public money.
The department later modified the ruling, but never rescinded it.
The House subcommittee asked Williams to testify about how he had reached his scholarship ruling; Alexander opposed the requested appearance.
Under the threat of a subpoena, he allowed the assistant secretary to appear yesterday.
But another Education Department official, Richard Komer, deputy assistant secretary for policy, did not testify before the BTC committee as requested, and its members voted 6-2 to issue a subpoena for his appearance.