Whites-only Alabama scholarship program raising eyebrows
October 30, 1999
From Correspondent Brian Cabell
MONTGOMERY, Alabama (CNN) -- Rosemary Heiss, a graduate student at Alabama State University, has been awarded about $30,000 in scholarships in the last four years -- because she's white and Alabama State is predominantly black.
"It was a new idea for me, but then certainly when I found out there was an opportunity to get a new cultural experience, I jumped at the chance," she says. "I think it's wonderful."
Heiss says she would have attended Alabama State anyway, but she concedes that the money for white students was another incentive.
The white scholarship program at two predominantly black Alabama public universities -- Alabama State and Alabama A&M -- began in 1995. It was part of a federal desegregation order covering Alabama's institutions of higher learning.
"The scholarship program was designed essentially as a jump- start effort to get the process of desegregation under way," said Carlos Gonzalez, appointed as a special master in the case by the federal court.
After determining that the two black colleges had been subject to discrimination, the court ordered that each receive $100 million to upgrade facilities and programs and diversify their student bodies.
Not everybody is happy with the whites-only scholarship plan. A black student is suing to overturn it, and a conservative public interest law group, the Southeastern Legal Foundation, also is critical.
"When you have a 14th Amendment that guarantees equal protection for everybody, you can't have government-sponsored policies of exclusion," said Matt Glavin, head of the foundation.
The legal challenge to the program may be decided within the next several months. In the meantime, Alabama State President William Harris is offering no apologies.
"The money that is available for white students to come for scholarships does not come at the expense of black students," Harris said, noting that it is extra money sent directly by the state.
The program seems to be working. White enrollment at Alabama State has jumped from 7 percent to 10 percent in the last four years.
The program is scheduled to end in six more years, at which time officials hope that white students will no longer need the incentive of financial aid to entice them to attend Alabama State.
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