Banneker Program Doesn't Achieve DiversityAfter reading...

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

August 08, 1992

Banneker Program Doesn't Achieve Diversity

After reading Edward L. Heard Jr.'s op-ed article (July 19) on the University of Maryland College Park's (UMCP) blacks-only, non-need-based scholarship program (the Banneker Program), I am compelled to comment.

This is especially important since I do not believe The Sun has provided the citizens of this state adequate information about the Banneker Program or the lawsuit challenging it.

Initially, Mr. Heard is correct in indicating that in order to justify the continuation of the Banneker Program, UMCP will have to prove that there are continuing effects of institutional discrimination against blacks at the university.

However, in several other respects Mr. Heard's article is misleading.

For example, the article implies that the Banneker Program is part of UMCP's diversity efforts. If it were really intended to foster diversity, why are Hispanics, Asian-Americans, Native Americans and whites with diversity-fostering attributes not considered?

In fact, College Park President William E. Kirwan testified that the only reason for the Banneker Program was to satisfy the Department of Education's desegregation requirements, none of which, incidentally, involved a blacks-only scholarship and all of which expired in 1989.

Importantly, both the Federal District Court and the Circuit Court of Appeals have found that the Banneker Program is not aimed at achieving diversity and UMCP did not create it for that purpose.

However, the state could convert the Banneker Program into a legal diversity scholarship program very easily if its leaders wanted to and had the political courage to do so.

Mr. Heard also says that the legal attack on the blacks-only criteria of the Banneker Program challenges its fairness. It does not; it challenges the constitutionality of a program that sets aside monetary benefits of as much as $50,000 or more for each of at least 20 incoming black students every year, irrespective of financial need and irrespective of whether they are Maryland residents or U.S. citizens.

Overall, UMCP spends well over $600,000 per year for thBanneker Program, and the vast majority of that money comes from Maryland taxpayers and UMCP student tuitions and it does so at a time when the state and university are facing severe budgetary problems.

Under our constitution, Congress, and not state educationabureaucrats, have the legislative power to set aside public funds to benefit one race if that would be "fair," and Congress has not sanctioned the Banneker Program.

Two sentences in Mr. Heard's piece are particularly instructive and troubling. In referring to the Banneker Program, he says, "Why mess up a good thing, something that only strives to match the educational opportunities afforded to most white youths?" He also says, "The University of Maryland, unlike many other schools, has done more than the required minimum to desegregate the state's education system."

The second sentence is absolutely correct. UMCP has met -- indeed exceeded -- every black undergraduate enrollment goal set by the federal government and its black student retention rates have continued to improve.

It also awards a significant number of academic scholarships to blacks under the Key Scholarship Program, which fosters the enrollment of highly qualified incoming students regardless of race.

The record is replete with evidence of UMCP affirmative action programs and achievements in the areas of recruiting and retaining black students, and that record clearly shows that UMCP is a fully integrated campus.

The few examples of acts of continuing discrimination at UMCP alleged by Mr. Heard were not perpetrated by the university and directed at students, and it is hard to imagine how a blacks-only scholarship program would correct them. If they have occurred, 14 years of the Banneker Program has done nothing to stop them.

Once a university has done what is required to integrate its campus, which UMCP has done, any continued monetary benefits directed by the school solely to students of one race, be it black or white, is an affront to the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

That is the reason the lawsuit challenging the Banneker Program will eventually "mess up a good thing." Maybe in 1954, when there were no blacks at UMCP, the Banneker Program may have been a "good thing," but certainly not now when up to 15.5 percent of the incoming freshman at UMCP, one of the state's most selective public universities, are black.

Lest anyone be troubled by Mr. Heard's concern that needy blacks will not be able to attend college if UMCP's blacks-only scholarship program is dropped, he or she should know that the program is not need-based.

Moreover, it affects less than 5 percent of the blacks on campus and the vast majority of the financial assistance provided to UMCP students is directed at needy individuals through other programs.

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