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Missouri-Columbia to Keep Summer Program for Minorities

Missouri-Columbia to Keep Summer Program for Minorities


The University of Missouri at Columbia is sticking by its Transitions program for incoming minority students, even as other schools change or eliminate their programs in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s decision on the University of Michigan’s affirmative action case.

“The Transitions program is specially designed to increase diversity on campus,” deputy chancellor Mike Middleton says. “I am committed to continuing these programs until the courts tell us they’re inappropriate.

“As of now, the law of the land is that these kinds of programs that consider race and ethnicity for the purpose of enhancing our legitimate and compelling interest in diversity on this campus are appropriate,” Middleton says.

Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently said they would eliminate — or open to all students — summer programs that previously were offered to minority students.

Legal groups opposed to affirmative action had sent those universities letters accusing them of discriminating against White students.

Missouri’s Transitions program has been in place since 1994. Up to 35 Black, Hispanic or American Indian students are invited each summer for a six-week program involving math and English classes and cultural and social events.

The university pays the students’ room and board and tuition, provides a stipend and offers those who complete the program a $2,500 scholarship.

The students help each other once they join the larger student body in the fall, Middleton said, which helps limit the isolation that minority students often feel on a mostly White campus.

Meanwhile, the University of Michigan has received support from a wide-range of organizations in the Supreme Court case.

In mid-February, Yale University and a group of Black Yale law students joined several other universities in backing the University of Michigan’s right to bring race into consideration when deciding which students to admit.

Connecticut’s attorney general also signed on to a “friend of the court” brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on Michigan’s behalf.

Those who favor affirmative action said the loss of the policy would be especially damaging to the nation’s most prestigious law schools, which serve as gateways to positions of power in the legal and political arena.

“At the very top schools, at least among African Americans, the numbers would certainly diminish,” says Travis LeBlanc, a third-year law student at Yale.

Yale University joined several other top schools in signing on to another friend of the court brief written by scholars at Harvard.

Columbia and Cornell, the two Ivy League schools who did not sign onto the brief, have prepared a separate, narrower brief that supports Michigan’s practices on the basis of academic freedom.

Howard University in Washington also has filed a brief in support of the University of Michigan.

In addition to arguing that diversity in America’s higher education system plays a critical role in preparing students to be leaders in business and other pursuits that affect the public interest, the Howard brief argues that providing opportunities for underrepresented minorities at the most competitive institutions is essential to the nation’s strategic interests in an increasingly globalized society.

“It is the position of Howard University that there is a compelling national interest for institutions of higher education having student populations that show a historic underrepresentation of various ethnic groups to engage in sustained and substantial efforts to promote racial and ethnic diversity within the student body,” says Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert.

Also in mid-February, New York and Iowa joined 20 other states to express support for the Michigan policies. The states and the U.S. Virgin Islands filed a friend of the court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on the issue April 1. The justices are considering how much weight, if any, colleges can give in their admissions process to a student’s color.

Justices will rule before July. The decision will have broad ramifications for the national debate on racial preferences in other areas, such as hiring.

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