Southern Illinois University Receives Justice Department Proposal on Minority Fellowships
Southern Illinois University has received the Justice Department’s final proposal for heading off the government’s threatened lawsuit over three allegedly discriminatory graduate fellowships, a spokesman for the university system said this week.
David Gross, spokesman for SIU President Glenn Poshard, said Poshard would meet with SIU administrators and key “constituency groups” for feedback about the government’s suggested solution to the dispute.
The Carbondale school’s student newspaper, the Daily Egyptian, first reported the Justice Department’s final offer this week, citing an e-mail from Chancellor Walter Wendler’s office inviting campus leaders to discuss an “upcoming consent agreement” between the school and government.
Gross declined to reveal specifics about the government’s proposal, saying Poshard may be available later to publicly discuss it. Wendler deferred immediate comment.
Messages left with the Justice Department were not immediately returned.
The Justice Department demanded in writing in November that SIU halt the fellowships or be sued, arguing that the programs violate the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and result in “intentional discrimination against Whites, non-preferred minorities and males.”
SIU officials have denied that the fellowships discriminate, saying the financial aid incentives promote the university’s tradition of diversity.
Two of the fellowship programs are aimed at increasing minority enrollment in graduate programs in which minorities are underrepresented.
The third fellowship is offered to women — including Whites — and minorities who have overcome social, cultural or economic obstacles.
Nearly 130 students have been aided through the fellowships, the university has said. Just under 8 percent of SIU’s 5,500 graduate students are Black or Hispanic, according to SIU.
The university has been in negotiations with the Justice Department for weeks but has refused to discuss the dialogue.
Rob Benford, a sociology professor serving as president of the school’s Faculty Senate, said he looked forward to Poshard detailing the Justice Department’s proposal during their meeting — but that he would likely question any retreat by the university from the fellowships.
Last month, the Faculty Senate unanimously passed a symbolic resolution urging the school’s administration to maintain the programs.
“These programs bring enormous benefit to the university,” Benford said. “My concern is, where are the people who supposedly have been harmed by the current policy? All I can point to is people who have been helped.”
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