The University of Minnesota was the subject of a civil rights complaint last week for enacting a research program that offers applicants a $6,000 stipend but is restricted to students of color.
The Multicultural Summer Research Opportunities Program, which the school describes as an “intensive 10 week summer program in which undergraduate students of color work full-time with a faculty mentor on a research project,” is explicitly restricted to those who “identify as a student of color or Native American.” Participants, who were asked for their demographic information as part of the application, receive a $6,000 stipend for personal and research expenses and another stipend provided to the faculty adviser for the research.
The Equal Protection Project, an initiative of the Legal Insurrection Foundation, sent a complaint to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights contending that the research program violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits any entity from receiving federal financial assistance while discriminating in accordance with race, color, or national origin. The complaint added that the Department of Education should consider “imposing fines, initiating administrative proceedings to suspend, terminate, or refuse to grant or continue federal financial assistance, and referring the case to the Department of Justice for judicial proceedings.”
“Racial discrimination by a public institution is illegal regardless of which race suffers,” the document continued. “Discrimination against white applicants is just as unlawful as discrimination against black or other non-white applicants.”
Similar civil rights complaints have been filed against universities in recent years over programs that discriminate in accordance with race and sex. Mark Perry, an economics professor emeritus at the University of Michigan-Flint, has filed hundreds of federal Title IX and Title VI complaints, many of which have been successful, in response to the academic programs.
Other schools have meanwhile implemented segregated spaces on campus in recent years: New York University introduced “themed engagement communities” to provide housing for students identifying with certain minority groups, the University of Pennsylvania created a separate “permanent shared space” for black student-athletes, and Stanford University launched a physics class specifically for minority students who do not “have the same level of preparation from high school as their majority peers.”
The most recent civil rights complaint against a university initiative comes as the Supreme Court is expected to release an opinion on affirmative action in the higher education system. Members of the conservative majority were skeptical that racial diversity truly offers educational benefits despite claims from attorneys representing Harvard University and the University of North Carolina; Justice Clarence Thomas, who rarely speaks during oral arguments, commented that “I’ve heard the word ‘diversity’ quite a few times, and I don’t have a clue what it means.”
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Evidence suggests that elite universities disadvantage white and Asian students in their admissions processes to attain higher levels of racial and cultural diversity. One study from 2009 concluded that Asian students required an SAT score roughly 140 points higher than white applicants, 270 points higher than Hispanic applicants, and 450 points higher than black applicants, according to a report from the Asian American Coalition for Education.