March 7, 2003

Cornell Evaluates Minority Programs

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In the wake of recent policy changes by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Princeton University concerning minority enrichment programs, the University is evaluating its own offerings.

Reacting to the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action case Grutter v. Bollinger, Princeton discontinued the Woodrow Wilson School Junior Summer Institute’s minority-exclusive policy on Feb. 5. After discrimination complaints were filed against MIT’s Minority Introduction to Engineering, Entrepreneurship and Science (MITE2S) and Project Interphase programs, their administration followed Princeton’s lead a week later.

In defending these changes, Princeton and MIT said that these programs were susceptible to lawsuits and complaints amid the current legal climate.

“Our best [legal] advice was that for racially exclusive programs, our chances of winning were essentially zero. We’d be much better off putting our energies into redesigning our programs to achieve the goals that we want while opening it up to other students,” stated Robert Redwine, MIT’s dean of undergraduate education, in a press release.

The MIT and Princeton decisions came after intense investigations by those respective institutions. At Cornell, the University counsel and administration are conducting a similar evaluation by examining the vulnerability of its programs.

Recent reports indicate that although there have not been any suspect offerings on the Ithaca campus, three Weill Medical College programs have been questioned by outside organizations, according to Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations.

The three programs are the Travelers Summer Research Fellowship Program for Premedical Minority Students, Gateways to the Laboratory and an internship program for training underrepresented minority students in biomedical sciences.

A letter was sent to the University by the American Civil Rights Institute and the Center for Equal Opportunity inquiring about these programs.

“Right now, we’re asking enrollment and recruitment about how the programs are structured and the guidelines … given,” Dullea said.

According to Robert Harris, vice provost for diversity and faculty development, one of the problems with the Woodrow Wilson program was that it openly advertised exclusively for minority students.

“Thus far, we have not identified any programs that would be subject to changes [like the ones] at MIT and Princeton,” Harris said.

Dullea said that it is probably too late to make any major policy changes this year and much will be determined by the outcome of the University of Michigan Law School case.

Two programs that might be suspect are the New York State Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP). However, even though these programs initially focused on minority students, there are no racial restrictions, according to Raymond Dalton, executive director of the Office of Minority Educational Affairs.

Dalton said that because the EOP and HEOP are funded by the state and are directed toward “students who are educationally and economically at a disadvantage comparatively speaking,” they are not comparable to the MIT and Princeton programs.

“HEOP and EOP are based on family income, so there have been students from a range of backgrounds,” Harris said.

Some students have already signaled their dismay over MIT and Princeton’s policies. Last Thursday, a resolution was passed at the Student Assembly (S.A.) condemning the two institutions’ changes and reaffirming their own support of minority enrichment programs.

The resolution’s reception was “incredibly positive,” according to Sai Pidatala ’04, executive vice president of the S.A. and the chief writer of the document. Pidatala said that many students came to speak in support of the resolution.

“These are programs that give brilliant students from poor socioeconomic conditions a great opportunity,” Pidatala said. “This was one issue that was not political.”

While the Wilson School’s program targeted minority undergraduate students interested in graduate study of international and public affairs, MITE2S and Project Interphase focused on underrepresented minority high school students. Dalton was surprised with the swiftness of the decisions and hopes that other institutions do not follow suit.

“One wonders why they made their decision with such haste,” Dalton said.

Both institutions filed amicus briefs over two weeks ago with other universities — and in MIT’s case, corporations — in support of the University of Michigan Law School.


Archived article by Brian Tsao