Officials tell federal court UM needs its scholarship program for blacks

June 30, 1992|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

University of Maryland officials told a federal judge yesterday that UM needs to retain its scholarship program for blacks to offset the lingering effects of past discrimination in the state's higher education system.

The university outlined its position during a pretrial conference with U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz in Baltimore and lawyers for a student who is challenging the Benjamin Banneker Scholarship program at College Park.

This is the second go-round in U.S. District Court in Baltimore for the case. Judge Motz upheld the race-based awards last year, but his decision was reversed in January by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that UM needed to prove discrimination exists before it can justify continuing the scholarships.

The appellate court's decision left the university with three options -- show that vestiges of discrimination still exist, dismantle the scholarship program, or seek an appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Judge Motz set a hearing date for April 1993, which will give UM time to gather its evidence, said Richard A. Weitzner, a state BTC attorney general who is representing the university.

"We feel it is very, very important for us in our mission as a land-grant institution to have these scholarships," said Kathryn R. Costello, a vice president at UM College Park. "Without programs like this, we cannot compete to keep up the numbers of minority students in this institution. . . . We're trying to have a student body that reflects this area."

Ms. Costello said the Banneker scholarships have helped recruit blacks to UM and have contributed to the university's diverse student enrollment. Blacks made up 11.2 percent of full-time students at College Park in both the fall 1991 and spring 1992 semesters, according to UM statistics.

The constitutionality of the Banneker scholarships was challenged in federal court in 1990 by Daniel Podberesky, then a College Park freshman who had been turned down for an award because he is not black. Mr. Podberesky, now a junior, is part Hispanic.

Richard R. Samp, chief counsel of the Washington Legal Foundation who is representing Mr. Podberesky, said the program would not have withstood the scrutiny of the Supreme Court. He also said UM will have trouble proving its case in federal court in Baltimore.

"I look forward to seeing what the University of Maryland comes up with. However, I think the 4th Circuit's decision doesn't give them too many options," Mr. Samp said. "As far as we're concerned, they already had their chance and they lost, and the scholarship program was struck down."

He cited a recent study that found that UM had more black graduates than any other predominantly white school in the nation for the 1988-89 school year.

Evelyn O. Cannon, chief of the state attorney general's litigation section, said the study would not damage the university's case.

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