November 16th, 2005 16:43 EST
Southern Illinois University-Carbondale faces legal action by U.S. Justice Department
By Matthew Kent
CARBONDALE, Ill.--Southern Illinois University-Carbondale officials are bracing that the university can avert a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit by Friday after the department alleged that three graduate fellowships are discriminatory. Chancellor Walter Wendler said he is hoping to meet with officials to discuss the issue.
According to the Nov. 4 letter written by the federal agency, the university must eliminate the programs before Nov. 18 or face legal action. The letter also stated that investigators concluded SIUC has participated in a pattern of discrimination against whites, non-preferred minorities and males.
The fellowships in question, specifically, The Proactive Recruitment of Multicultural Professionals for Tomorrow, the Bridge to Doctorate are said to be discriminatory because white males lack eligibility for all three awards, the department alleges. SIU General Counsel Jerry Blakemore requested the department explain these charges, as well as an extended deadline.
Blakemore was strongly opposed to the accusations and said the government agency only included racial information of non-participants and that their data did not span a long period of time. In addition, the five-day response time was too short for the university, he added.
In earlier statements, Wendler said the university wouldn`t rule out fighting a lawsuit saying, The students who come here on those programs have been admitted to SIU, and they deserve to be here. It`s my obligation to make sure they stay here. "
The story, originally broke by the Chicago Sun-Times, is the first of its kind, university officials say. Pat McNeil, an assistant dean and administrator of the Underrepresented Fellowships Office told the Sun-Times, I`ll be up front with you. No white male gets this award. "
One of SIUC`s initiative through the ˜Southern at 150` plan includes strengthening the SIUC community through diversity, officials say. It also is a goal to become one of the nation`s top 75 public research institutions before 2019.
A Supreme Court decision in 2003 involving the University of Michigan set a precedent for affirmative action policies at state universities across the nation. In Grutter v. Bollinger, the court ruled 5-4 that race could influence admission decisions if it was not the sole factor.
Such allegations were expected, according to SIUC History professor Jonathan Bean. He is an expert on affirmative action and has written a book on the subject.
It was clear time was running out for SIU`s racially exclusive regime, " Bean said in earlier statements.
He also said, All I`ll say is I`m not alone and surveys show large majorities of students and most faculty favor equal opportunity but not special privileges. "
Statements made by SIUC Black American Studies director Joseph Brown have said the university is on a mission to have its student population reflect diversity found throughout the state of Illinois. Brown said, SIUC has a long way to go. "
I think it`s a distraction from the real issues; I think it goes to counter the ˜Southern at 150` goals, and that this is another attempt to undermine affirmative action at the root, " Brown added.