Monday, May 27, 2024

Small: OU should end race-based discrimination

OU should end race-based discrimination
By Jonathan Small

In its 2023 opinion in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that race-based admissions processes for college violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The court bluntly stated, “Eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it.”

But many colleges continue to pretend otherwise, despite strong public support for race neutrality. A new class-action lawsuit indicates the problem of racial discrimination remains a problem at the University of Oklahoma. (Full disclosure: The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs’ general counsel is local counsel for the plaintiffs, who are also represented by a national firm.)

Based on a statistical analysis of publicly available data, the plaintiffs found “that the University of Oklahoma considers race when awarding financial aid to its students.”

“Rather than determining who to admit based on their race, the University of Oklahoma determines how much financial aid it gives to students based on their race,” the complaint states. “That is unlawful.”

The class-action lawsuit seeks damages for impacted students, alleging OU violated the students’ rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Based on the University of Oklahoma’s published enrollment data and the financial-aid data that it reported to the Department of Education from 2009 to 2022, statistical analysis shows that black students receive more institutional grant aid from the University of Oklahoma than other students, even when controlling to the extent possible for factors such as family income,” the complaint states.

Because scholarship funds are limited, any preferences given to one group come at the expense of another. Such trade-offs are common in the world of college financial aid, but the alleged preferences in this case violate students’ constitutional rights.

It’s not hard to see how the alleged practices at OU can cause significant harm – for example, two students from similar economic backgrounds with similar academic aptitude could receive different scholarship amounts based on race.

One student represented in the lawsuit, who received no financial aid to attend OU, says she was explicitly told aid would have likely been provided if she was black.

Obviously, the goal of racial equality cannot be achieved so long as government institutions treat certain people as though they are not equal to students from other racial backgrounds.

It makes no sense if, for example, a black student from an upper-middle-class family received more financial aid than a non-black OU student from a lower-middle class family.

If OU wants to boost diversity, basing aid on financial need alone would do the trick. That would allow more students from lower-income backgrounds to attend, regardless of their skin color. The university should abandon all policies that perpetuate racial discrimination and invite lawsuits.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public AffairsOklahoma Council of Public Affairs.


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