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Washington Briefs

High Court Hears Controversial Fees Case

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month heard arguments in a case that may have major implications for campus-based organizations that represent students of color.
The case focuses on the University of Wisconsin and its policy of collecting mandatory fees from students — money the university ultimately uses to support an array of student organizations. Critics of the policy, primarily Christian conservatives, say the policy violates the First Amendment by requiring students to provide financial support to organizations whose views they oppose.
Plaintiffs in the case have objected to the university’s policy of using student fees to support, among others, a gay student organization; a campus women’s center; the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group, a liberal organization; and the United States Student Association, which supports student interests in Washington, D.C.
The case also could have implications for minority student organizations that rely on revenue from the fees to support a voice for students of color in higher education.
In its arguments before the court, the University of Wisconsin maintained that fees actually support the First Amendment by ensuring that students may select from among a variety of organizations for extracurricular activities. The questioning from judges focused not only on the fees themselves but also on the distribution pattern the university uses when awarding funds.
College and university officials are closely watching the case, since officials argue that many fee systems, particularly at public colleges, largely follow Wisconsin’s model.
The university has said it collected more than $15 million in student fees for the current school year, largely through per-student contributions of about $400. Fee critics also are monitoring the case closely, and courts in other regions have delayed consideration of their cases pending the Wisconsin outcome.

HBCU Projects Win Federal Funds

WASHINGTON — Political posturing and budget battles are the norm today on Capitol Hill. But that hasn’t stopped lawmakers of both parties from designating special federal grants to pet projects, including several designed to help students at historically Black colleges.
The latest example is the year 2000 spending bill for the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs and various  independent agencies.
Tucked deep inside the thick document are dozens of special earmarks for colleges, mostly through HUD’s Community Development Block Grant program. The final block-grant plan includes direct earmarks of $10 million for HBCUs and $6.5 million for Hispanic-serving institutions.
The bill then sets aside funds for hundreds of cities, community groups and colleges. Among HBCUs, highlights include:
n $250,000 for Stillman College, Tuscaloosa, Ala., for the construction and development of a health and wellness facility.
n $100,000 for Nicholls State University in Louisiana for expansion and development of a family and consumer science program.
n  $200,000 for Alabama A&M University in Normal, Ala., for the renovation of historic buildings on campus.
n $700,000 for Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Fla., for development of a community services student union.
n $500,000 for Spelman College in Atlanta for renovation of the Spelman College Science Center.
n $500,000 for Dillard College in New Orleans for helping people make the transition from welfare to work.
n $1.5 million for the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore to develop a coastal energy teaching and research center.
n $200,000 for West Virginia State College to help create a computer library.
Other recipients of these specially earmarked funds included the University of Puerto Rico, which will receive $250,000 for renovation and restoration of the university’s theater. The State University of New York at Stonybrook, Syracuse University and a variety of Los Angeles community groups also are among the grant recipients.
To receive the grants, the colleges and community groups won the all-important support of House and Senate HUD appropriators. Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., and Rep. James Walsh, R-N.Y., chair the respective House and Senate panels that draw up the HUD spending proposals. The full House and Senate approved the measure, and President Clinton signed the bill in late October.

Fattah Introduces College Retention Legislation

WASHINGTON — Congressman Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., has introduced legislation designed to help institutions of higher education expand their efforts to increase the rate at which low-income and other at-risk students complete baccalaureate degree programs.
“What this college retention bill does is ensure that students who start the race towards their degree wind up finishing,” says Fattah, a Congressional Black Caucus member.
The bill is called “The William H. Gray College Completion Challenge Grant Act of 1999” — named for the head of the United Negro College Fund and the former congressman from the district Fattah now represents. Two dozen congressmen already have signed on as sponsors of the legislation.
The proposal would help colleges and universities improve their retention and graduation rates by providing funds for the implementation of intensive summer programs, the development of strong student support services and direct-aid grants to students.

Quorum Calls
Go Unanswered on
UDC Board

     WASHINGTON — City officials here had to pass an emergency measure earlier this month so that the University of the District of Columbia board could continue to govern the school.
Regents lost their ability to govern last month after a majority members left when their terms expired. D.C. Mayor A. Anthony Williams has been criticized for not nominating replacements quickly enough.
The board of the city’s only public university, which is supposed to have 15 members, has been an 11-person operation since February. Seven members were to have ended their terms in May but were allowed extensions through Nov. 15.
Much of the board’s work is done through committees, but the lack of a quorum prevented any governance decisions from being made. Eight members are required for a quorum.
The D.C. City  Council  passed an emergency bill that will allow the remaining regents to still conduct university business. The development comes as UDC is beginning to dig itself out of a financial hole that many blamed on administrative turmoil and an ineffective board.
Williams, the mayor, says he’s having trouble finding people with a national reputation who are willing to serve and that candidates seem reluctant to join the board until the university’s problems have been solve. But he says he needs candidates who realize they will be expected to help solve those problems.
“It’s a ‘Catch 22,'” Williams says. “We have to find the very best people, people of national stature

Clinton Signs D.C.  Tuition Break Bill

WASHINGTON — High School graduates from the District of Columbia can now attend public colleges in Maryland and Virginia at in-state tuition rates after President Clinton signed the legislation earlier this month.
District students are eligible to receive as much as $10,000 a year to pay the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition costs through a program which will be administered by D.C. Mayor A. Anthony Williams.
The bill also allows D.C. students to attend private colleges in Maryland and Virginia. The subsidy for private schools is $2,500 per year.        

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