Blacks-only scholarships upheld Student had challenged UM program as discriminatory.

May 17, 1991|By Joe Nawrozki and Melody Simmons | Joe Nawrozki and Melody Simmons,Evening Sun Staff

The legal exclusivity of a blacks-only scholarship program at the University of Maryland College Park has been upheld by a U.S. District Court judge in Baltimore following a challenge by a student there who said the scholarship program was discriminatory.

Judge J. Frederick Motz ruled yesterday that the Benjamin Banneker scholarships have been a legitimate method for achieving integration at the University of Maryland at College Park.

The ruling came in response to a suit filed last June by Daniel J. Podberesky of Randallstown, who had been turned down for a Banneker scholarship.

"Since the Banneker program was established solely for the purpose of recruiting and retaining black students at UMCP and since Podberesky is not black, to award him the functional equivalent of a Banneker scholarship would be to grant him a benefit to which he never would have been entitled," Motz wrote in a memorandum.

Motz rejected the plaintiff's argument that affirmative action, in general, and the Banneker scholarship program, in particular, "is little more than an unconstitutional anachronism."

Motz said in his written opinion that the program was a partial remedy to past discriminatory practices in state higher education.

"If ever there was an administrative record demonstrating past discrimination, this is it," Motz wrote.

Samuel Podberesky, the student's father and a UM alumnus, represented his son before Motz when the case was argued on April 26.

"Since the [U.S.] Department of Education felt there was still some discrimination left, some form of action was clearly appropriate," he said. "I didn't argue in opposition to that. The issue is whether a quota not specifically approved by the Department of Eduction could be instituted by the state."

The student's father said he wanted to examine Motz's opinion more thoroughly before deciding whether to appeal the ruling.

Daniel Podberesky, reportedly a straight-A student, is now taking pre-med courses at College Park.

Podberesky applied for the Banneker scholarship after narrowly failing to qualify for the Francis Scott Key awards, which are open to all students. His college entrance examination scores were slightly below the cutoff scores for eligibility.

Last year, 28 Banneker scholarships valued at $33,500 each were awarded to state high school seniors. The 1991 awards have not yet been made.

The awards were created in 1978 so that UMCP could recruit black students and were a direct response to a 1969 order by the U.S. Office of Civil Rights to integrate state universities.

Maryland was one of 18 southern states notified by the federal government of such violations.

Under a threat of termination of federal education funding in 1975, the state proposed a five-year desegregation plan in 1985, and the Banneker scholarships were established as part of the effort to comply with the federal law.

The Maryland desegregation plan is expected to be submitted to civil rights officials in Washington next month, but final review is not expected for two years. Pennsylvania, Texas and Kentucky also have yet to submit higher education civil rights reform plans.

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