Judge OKs Settlement in White Student’s Discrimination Suit
TULSA, Okla. — A federal judge earlier this month approved a settlement in a discrimination lawsuit filed by a White student who contended that Oklahoma higher-education officials unfairly denied him a scholarship.
University of Tulsa student Matthew Pollard filed his lawsuit against the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education in 1998, saying his college entrance exam test scores were better than those of several minority students who received scholarship money from the state.
Pollard will receive $20,000 under the agreement approved by U.S. District Judge Wayne Alley. Another $230,000 will be divided among 15 other students who later joined the class-action lawsuit — more than $15,000 each.
The settlement amount is about half of what they would have received if they had been awarded five-year scholarships under the program. In addition, the state has agreed to pay nearly $100,000 in attorneys’ fees.
The program awarded scholarships to the top 0.5 percent of Oklahoma students from each racial and gender group based on test scores from college entrance exams.
In the wake of Pollard’s suit, state lawmakers revised the program and eliminated scholarships that gave a slim edge to gifted Hispanic, American Indian and Black students who sometimes scored lower than White students.
Center for Equal Opportunity Files Records Request with UVA
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The conservative group responsible for raising a nationwide furor against affirmative action has filed an open-records request to view records from University of Virginia trustee meetings at which school officials discussed the role of race in student admissions.
The Center for Equal Opportunity, which had criticized the university for favoring African-American applicants, last year essentially forced the school to change a scoring system that explicitly took race into account. However, university officials insist the change was procedural and that race is still informally considered (see Black Issues March 2).
The center, based in Washington, D.C., requested the records in December. But last month, Linda Chavez, the center’s president, wrote to university officials and complained about the records provided.
“It is interesting that, in all the documents provided, there is nothing, not a word, discussing how or to what extent race and ethnicity are used as admissions criteria,” Chavez wrote. “During a year when obviously this was a matter of serious discussion by [university] officials, it is quite remarkable that nothing was committed to paper that can be shared with the public.”‘
University spokeswoman Louise Dudley says the university has provided all of the information requested but is double-checking to make sure no records related to the request were missed.
Last year, the center issued a report based on the university’s 1996 admissions records that concluded Black applicants were 33 times more likely to gain admission than White applicants.
The center followed up with a second review of more recent admissions figures that concluded African Americans were 111 times more likely to gain admission last year than similarly qualified White applicants.
Virginia officials blamed the controversy over the university’s affirmative action policy for a 25 percent drop in the number of African American students seeking admission.
Alabama A&M President’s Wife on
Paid Leave During ROTC Investigation
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The wife of Alabama A&M University’s president will remain on paid leave from the school until completion of an inquiry into allegations of federal fraud, authorities say.
Dr. John T. Gibson’s wife, Voncile, was placed on leave in January after an audit by U.S. Army officials cited financial irregularities in an ROTC Enhanced Skills Training Program that she managed.
Rod Steakley, an attorney for the university’s board of trustees, says he has been reviewing records and conducting interviews to look into the allegations. He estimates the investigation will take approximately six more weeks.
Auditors say the Army paid A&M more than $1.5 million for the program over the last seven years but that A&M collected $641,512 above its costs and transferred the money to its general fund.
The audit recommends Army officials seek the return of nearly $447,000. Voncile Gibson maintains she did nothing wrong.
The auditors also accused her and a secretary of receiving nearly $91,000 for work done during nonbusiness hours between April 1992 and September 1997 that had nothing to do with the ROTC program.
Texas Professors Want
Standardized College Exit Exams
AUSTIN, Texas — A group of University of Texas professors wants the state to implement standardized tests for students who seek bachelor’s degrees from public colleges and universities.
Such tests are needed as a way to judge the quality of instruction — just as the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, or TAAS test — measures public schools, says a group of about 15 professors.
Minorities recently mounted an unsuccessful legal challenge to those tests as discriminatory against African American and Hispanic students.
The university professors informally pitched the idea — which some other professors want trashed — last month to Lt. Gov. Rick Perry’s staff. Spokesman Ray Sullivan says that Perry “is intrigued.”
Last fall, Perry appointed a special panel to study higher education reform. That commission will discuss ways to measure quality later this spring but Perry has not endorsed any specific proposal, Sullivan says.
“We’re just trying to get a measure of performance that’s objectively assessed,” says psychology professor Joe Horn, who supports the concept. “It’s good for accountability.”
Unlike TAAS, the tests would not be used to withhold degrees from students who fail. Rather, the required tests would be used to evaluate faculty and could weigh into decisions on tenure, promotion and raises.
Critics say the plan would create an unwieldy bureaucracy with a hidden agenda. “If you read between the lines, they’re worried about classes having ideological bents and students being graded on whether they share the ideological bent of the professor,” says computer science professor Alan Cline. “I think it’s scary.”
Disney Signs on as Black College
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Walt Disney World late last month signed on as a main sponsor of the Black College Reunion, an event that has touched off past controversy but is gaining broad support from the business community.
Disney officials have confirmed that they will sponsor a presidents’ conference for representatives from the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities, but say that details still were being worked out.
Dean O’Brien, president of the nonprofit group who collaborated with city officials to organize the event, says other corporate sponsors include AT&T Wireless Services, General Motors Corp. and Daytona International Speedway.
The Black College Reunion began in 1984 as a loosely organized series of parties for students and alumni from Bethune-Cookman College and Florida A&M University.
But college officials distanced themselves from the event as it evolved in the 1990s into a street party noted more for traffic gridlock, lewd behavior and violence than for collegiate camaraderie.
O’Brien says big-name corporate sponsors and new features like the presidents’ conference will help the event redefine itself.
Harvard Professors Looking
Into Reparations Lawsuit
BOSTON — Two Harvard University scholars have joined the research effort to determine whether legal and legislative action can secure reparations for the descendants of enslaved Blacks in early America.
“We are looking at what’s the viability of legal action and political viability of legislative action, and then more morally, how can we get beyond the history of slavery to think of ways to comprehensively remedy it,” says Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree Jr.
Harvard Afro-American Studies chairman Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. says he is planning to ask the board of Harvard’s W.E.B. DuBois Institute to examine the issue as well.
But several legal scholars question whether a proposed class-action suit on behalf of slaves’ descendants could be brought so many years after the events, especially with all of the direct victims long dead.
“There is a difference between the people actually enslaved and those bringing the lawsuit,” says Jules Coleman, a Yale University Law School professor. “The question is, would the courts recognize the latter?”
Ogletree says his goal is not to make people rich, but closure on one of the most painful chapters in U.S. history. “This is not a situation of someone sitting at the mailbox waiting for a check,” he says. “That trivializes the broad purpose.”
If the effort moves forward, it is not clear what its proponents would demand. They could ask for a cash settlement, but sources say it’s more likely they would ask for broader programs to help African Americans.
Campus Newspaper’s Editor
Resigns over Cartoon Flap
OKLAHOMA CITY — The editor of the campus newspaper at Oklahoma City University resigned earlier this month after an outcry over an editorial cartoon about the Confederate flag controversy.
Editor Brian Sargent, 22, apologized to students and gave his resignation to Dr. Stephen Jennings, the university’s president, after Jennings criticized the cartoon and said the paper should have shown more sensitivity.
University officials reprimanded the student paper’s faculty adviser, Randy Splaingard, who approved the publication of the cartoon.
Student editors say they made the decision to run the cartoon last month only after careful deliberation and after reaching the conclusion that it took a strong stand against flying the Confederate flag, an issue that has ignited controversy in many Southern states.
The cartoon, which originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, shows a White man with a Confederate flag on his T-shirt saying that he likes “to see a symbol of Southern heritage hanging atop the flagpole.”
The next panel shows the dangling legs of a Black person who had been hanged from a flagpole. “What’s so wrong about that?” the man asks.
“Of course, the cartoon was satirical and carried a strong message,” an editorial in the newspaper said regarding the controversy. “But please understand that we published it simply to illustrate the emptiness of arguments for flying the Confederate flag, certainly not to hurt or offend anyone.”
Deficit Forces Layoffs at
St. Augustine’s College
RALEIGH, N.C. — Officials at St. Augustine’s College were forced to lay off faculty earlier this month, a move that college officials attribute to a near $700,000 budget deficit.
Dr. Dianne B. Suber, president of the private historically Black college, links the deficit to declining enrollment, which officials say has dipped from nearly to 2,000 students in 1992 to the college’s current enrollment of 1,400 students.
Administrators would not say exactly how many professors they expect to let go, but cited faculty salaries as a large expense. The Raleigh News and Observer reported that nearly a quarter of the college’s 90 faculty members had been told their jobs would end at the close of the spring semester.
About 85 percent of the college’s faculty are annual contract employees, without tenure.
Meanwhile, one of the college’s former administrators was sentenced to three years probation and 300 hours of community service on charges that she stole more than $40,000 to pay for family medical and funeral expenses.
Sandra D. Smith pleaded guilty to embezzlement and will repay the college over the next three years. She was the college’s chief internal auditor. It is unclear whether she was fired or allowed to resign.
Students Rally Against Racist Incidents
EWING TOWNSHIP, N.J. — Afternoon classes were canceled for one day earlier this month at The College of New Jersey to allow students to rally in response to a series of racist incidents at the school that included an e-mail and a race-related fight in a dining hall.
The Newark Star-Ledger reported that the campus protest came after the Black Student Union received an unsigned e-mail titled “White people rule the World,” that threatened to kill Black students at the school.
“This was threatening language, and it was hateful and it was directed toward a minority group,” says Dr. Jesse Rosenblum, college associate vice president. “We are taking it very seriously.”
Ramses Daye, the former president of the Black Student Union who discovered the message, turned the e-mail over to the administration, then called a protest rally at the student center. More than 350 students, faculty and staff attended the rally.
Campus officials also released information about two other race-related incidents on campus that students have accused the administration of covering up.
On Feb. 17, posters were found on the walls of a student dormitory advertising a fictitious fraternity, Kappa Kappa Kappa, or KKK. Another poster urged students to join the campus chapter of the Church of Satan.
One day after the posters were found and removed, campus police broke up a fight in a dining hall that began after a student threw a salt shaker at a Black worker.
Both incidents are under investigation, but it was unclear if either was related to the e-mail sent to the Black Student Union.
Angela Davis Speaks Out for
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A famous university professor and activist who studies prison issues said in a speech at Wake Forest University earlier this month that racism “is deeply inscribed in the [nation’s] justice system.”
Activist Angela Davis, who was fired from the University of California at Los Angeles in the ’60s for being a Communist, says the recent New York court verdict in the Amadou Diallo case proves the system must be fixed.
A jury in Albany, N.Y., acquitted four police officers who shot the African immigrant to death but say they were acting in self-defense because they believed that Diallo had a gun. He actually was holding up his wallet.
“It was outrageous,” Davis told her audience. “His case is now a symbol that Black men, especially, are suspect. We should utilize this opportunity to develop a deeper consciousness about racism.”
UCLA fired Davis in 1969 upon discovering she was a member of the Communist Party. A year later, she was charged with murder and kidnapping in a shootout in front of a California county courthouse.
Davis was acquitted after a 13-week trial and an international movement to free her. Davis now teaches at the University of California at Santa Cruz and analyzes the U.S. prison-industrial complex.
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