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Ohio reviews diversity scholarships


Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down affirmative action programs in higher education, saying race cannot be a consideration in university and college admissions. That prompted some conservative attorneys general to tell college leaders that race-based financial awards are unconstitutional. In Ohio, public schools are now in the process of scrubbing race-based language from their scholarships. Ohio Public Radio's Sarah Donaldson has the story.

SARAH DONALDSON: Sedric Granger just graduated from Ohio University's journalism school. He thrived there with gigs as a resident assistant in the dorms and an announcer for both the university and local high school.


SEDRIC GRANGER: That ball's chopped on the ground over to the second baseman.


GRANGER: A high hopper over Cole Fortner, and that one's into right field.

DONALDSON: But Granger, who was raised an hour north, in the suburbs of Columbus, says he's leaving the school and the state with mixed feelings. Two scholarships he received in prior years that had been earmarked for minority students weren't awarded this year.

GRANGER: You should not have to be feeling, yes, I'm thankful that I graduated at the exact right time because after this, there's going to be a lot of scholarships and a lot of money left on the table for so many students.

DONALDSON: The June 2023 Supreme Court ruling did not directly prohibit scholarships for minority students, but officials in some conservative-led states say it could be interpreted that way. In a February statement, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost's spokesperson said, race-based scholarships are unconstitutional because they, quote, "discriminate on the basis of race in awarding benefits." Ohio's Republican Senate President Matt Huffman says, the attorney general is informing his clients - in this case, state institutions - correctly. He says donors can fund scholarships on their own, but state universities have to follow certain rules.


MATT HUFFMAN: Because the donor wants to do what they want to do. Now, if it's exclusionary for certain people, I think the university's under the obligation to reject that money.

DONALDSON: Spokespeople at half a dozen Ohio universities and colleges, including behemoth Ohio State University in Columbus, have said they're reviewing scholarships and programs for potential noncompliance. Most weren't yet able to paint a picture as to how many awards were affected, although it's likely millions of dollars.

DAVID TRYON: It's certainly laudable that we want to help those who need help, and - but that is not an excuse for violating the law.

DONALDSON: That's David Tryon, litigation director of the Buckeye Institute, a conservative think tank. He sent out dozens of records requests to universities, bar associations and law firms to investigate what they see as discriminatory law programs.

TRYON: I think they need to do so quickly to avoid liability. And I think there is some resistance to changing, but I think that most legal advisers are advising their clients to make the changes.

DONALDSON: Although university officials seem to have taken Yost's guidance in stride, faculty and donors at OU's journalism school have been vocal in their frustration. OU alumnus and former longtime journalist Andy Alexander and his wife, Beverly, fund an annual scholarship, earmarked for underrepresented student journalists. He says it was born out of a passion for putting money toward more diverse newsrooms.

ANDY ALEXANDER: If the state and the university interpret this as prohibiting private individuals from specifying that their scholarships be used to promote diversity, then I think there's nothing to stop people like me, my wife and I, from simply bypassing the university and finding a way to give our scholarship directly to students.

DONALDSON: Officials at OU say because of the court's ruling and the attorney general's guidance, their review is going beyond race-based awards. They say now, they'll have to look at other protected classes like gender.

For NPR News, I'm Sarah Donaldson in Columbus.

(SOUNDBITE OF POPULOUS AND RIVA'S "BATISMO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sarah Donaldson
[Copyright 2024 WOSU 89.7 NPR News]