Bush’s Commitment to Black Colleges Called Into Question:
New policy statement contradicts promises of increased federal funding, some say
By Charles Dervarics
An obscure Bush administration document is becoming a flashpoint for debate over affirmative action and the White House commitment to Black colleges — a debate that is attracting the attention of at least one presidential candidate.
The document, already made public, is a new Statement of Administration Policy from the White House regarding set-asides in an energy bill on Capitol Hill. In the bill, lawmakers proposed at least $5 million in grants to HBCUs, tribal colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions. Other provisions would help members of underrepresented groups prepare for science careers and encourage national labs to increase participation by “socially and economically” disadvantaged businesses.
The Bush administration opposed all three provisions, saying they “provide certain preferences” based on race.
Coming just months after President Bush promised to increase federal funding for HBCUs, the letter has drawn some partisan sniping in the capital. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a Democratic presidential candidate, calls the new letter “difficult to understand” in light of the president’s earlier remarks. It would appear that the administration “objects to these institutions being assured participation in federal programs.”
Kerry’s spokesman, Tony Wyche, was more blunt. Following the administration’s opposition to the University of Michigan affirmative action admissions policy, the new let
ter “speaks volumes about where the administration is going on this,” Wyche told Black Issues.
In defense, a senior administration official sought to distinguish between general support for Black colleges and opposition to quotas.
President Bush supports an increase in funding for HBCUs, but the energy bill “deals specifically with set-asides and racial preferences,” says Ari Fleischer, Bush’s press secretary.
“He supports aggressive efforts to reach out to minorities, to be inclusive of people of all races, provide equal opportunity. But he does not support quotas, preferences or set-asides,” Fleischer added.
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