UM acts to save program Scholarships for blacks merged with other award

January 22, 1995|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

Trying to salvage a minority recruitment program that has been ruled unconstitutional, the University of Maryland College Park will combine the controversial blacks-only Benjamin Banneker scholarship program with the merit-based Francis Scott Key awards for the 1995-1996 academic year.

Meanwhile, William E. Kirwan, president of the College Park campus, said yesterday that the university will continue with plans to appeal to the Supreme Court a ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the Banneker program violates the Constitution.

"I have made it very clear that our preference is to continue the Banneker scholarship, and if we prevail with the Supreme Court we will definitely reinstitute the program," Dr. Kirwan said.

He said the two pools of students who would have been invited to apply for Banneker and Key scholarships will be combined, and that 60 to 70 "Banneker-Key" scholarships will be awarded this spring.

In recent years, about 30 Banneker and 35 Key scholarships were awarded annually, he said. The Banneker program pays full tuition, room and board for a year.

The university cannot continue using the 16-year-old Banneker program under the federal appeals court ruling last month.

The outcome of the Supreme Court appeal is considered by many in higher education as likely to settle the constitutional fate of hundreds of race-based scholarship programs across the nation.

If the Supreme Court turns aside the university's appeal, the Banneker program would end. If the justices decide to hear the case, a ruling might not come until late 1995 or even 1996. The appeal must be filed by March 30.

Meanwhile, Dr. Kirwan said, the university is up against a deadline for awarding scholarships, which is traditionally done in late March.

He said the merger was not an abandonment of the university's efforts to increase black enrollment.

"This is definitely not an admission that the courts were correct, but we do have to abide by the law, and the prevailing legal opinion is that the Banneker cannot be operated as it now exists. We can't violate the . . . order."

Dr. Kirwan said the awarding of new scholarships will be based on "a half-dozen criteria," including academic profile, evidence of leadership, recommendations from teachers and the college's general goals for maintaining a racially diverse student body. There are no racial quotas attached to it.

"Race will not be a criterion, but it will play a part in that the university's diversity goals will guide our decisions on awarding the scholarships," he said.

"The feeling is that this [compromise] meets the objections of the 4th Circuit Court and at the same time is a program the faculty and staff believe will enable us to make progress toward our goals with respect to a diverse student body," Dr. Kirwan said.

"It is still a very prestigious scholarship," he said of the Banneker-Key scholarships, which will cover full tuition, room and board for a year at a time.

Students may apply for renewal for their sophomore, junior and senior years. Room, board and tuition for this year total $8,623.

The decision to merge the programs was made by an ad hoc committee of faculty, staff and legal advisers formed after the federal appeals court ruled against the university in October. In that case, a three-judge panel of the court said the university had failed to show that the scholarship was necessary to remedy any lingering racial bias from the days when the College Park campus discriminated against black students.

The university and black students appealed the case, asking the full court to reconsider the constitutionality of the Banneker scholarships, but the court ruled 8-3 against them on Dec. 30, leaving the Supreme Court as the last appeal.

Dr. Kirwan said the decision on merging the scholarship programs was made in consultation with the state attorney general's office and the university's legal staff. The ad hoc committee was headed by Raymond Johnson, a professor and chairman of the mathematics department who was also head of the Banneker scholarship committee.

Dr. Johnson said the creators of the new scholarships wanted a program that would be flexible, considering that it might be more than a year before the Supreme Court rules. He said that if the Supreme Court throws out the case, the Banneker-Key scholarships "definitely" will become permanent.

If the court rules in favor of the university, he said, officials will have the option of returning to two separate programs or continuing with the merged program.

Earl T. Shinhoster, interim senior administrator for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said his organization was aware that UM was considering alternatives to the Banneker program but that he had not seen the details of the merged program.

The merger was worked out late last week.

He said the NAACP was concerned that the new creation "does not negatively impact the total number of African-Americans that can matriculate to the university."

"The African-Americans are the only minority group that is still under-represented compared to that group in the overall population of the state," said Roland King, the university's public information officer.

The Banneker scholarships have been challenged for more than four years by a former College Park undergraduate student, Daniel J. Podboresky, who is part Hispanic and is attending medical school at the University of Maryland at Baltimore.

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