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Ohio University pauses race-based scholarships after Supreme Court ruling, Attorney General advice

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Ohio University pauses race-based scholarships after Supreme Court ruling, Attorney General advice

Feb 28, 2024 | 5:00 am ET
By Megan Henry
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Ohio University pauses race-based scholarships after Supreme Court ruling, Attorney General advice
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Alumni Gateway at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. (Getty Images.)

Ohio University is “temporarily pausing” awarding race-based diversity scholarships after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down race-conscious admissions over the summer, according to a statement the university released last week. 

The university said they started a review process for selection criteria for admissions and scholarships after the Supreme Court ruled Harvard and the University of North Carolina violated the equal protections clause of the 14th Amendment by using race as a factor in applications. 

“We are temporarily pausing the awarding of impacted scholarships, which represent a small but important subset of our annual awards, as we contemplate any necessary revisions,” the statement said. “Scholarships already awarded to current students are not impacted by this review. Current students will continue to receive renewable scholarships if they meet the renewal criteria.”

Ohio University E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Director Eddith Dashiell told the Ohio Capital Journal that Scripps College of Communication Dean Scott Titsworth recently said in a meeting that the university is “deleting every single diversity scholarship.”

“(The Supreme Court decision is) being stretched to include diversity scholarships, which I think is clearly wrong,” Dashiell said. “… By not awarding diversity scholarships, to me, is a direct slap in the face of Ohio University’s (Diversity Equity Inclusion) commitment. If we don’t reward these scholarships, that’s less money available to all students.” 

Ohio Attorney General’s Office

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost sent a strongly-worded letter to Ohio colleges and universities the day after the Harvard and North Carolina Supreme Court decision. 

In light of Harvard, institutions of higher education and institutional employees must immediately cease considering race when making admissions decisions,” Yost wrote in his June 30 letter. 

Race-based scholarships came up on a Jan. 26 call with universities, said Yost’s spokesperson Bethany McCorkle. 

“What was said in response to a question was after the recent Supreme Court decision, scholarships will need to be looked at to ensure compliance with the law,” McCorkle said in an email. “Although the Court did not expressly prohibit race-based scholarships, it indicated that ‘eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it.’ Race-based scholarships discriminate on the basis of race in awarding benefits. Therefore, it would follow that such programs are unconstitutional.”

This isn’t just impacting Ohio University. Ohio State University is in the “process of updating scholarship criteria to ensure compliance with the law,” according to the university’s website.

Yost’s June letter goes on to say his office won’t legally protect someone at a college or university who uses race as a factor. 

“Employees of institutions of higher education will face personal risk should they consider race during the admissions process,” Yost’s letter said. “… Employees who use race when making admissions decisions may not be entitled to qualified immunity … my office may be unable to raise any qualified-immunity defense on your employees’ behalf. If the employee is ultimately found liable, he or she may be personally liable for any damages.”

Because of this, Dashiell said she has heard that OU won’t be able to legally protect faculty if someone sues over a scholarship decision. 

“Everybody’s so afraid, they’re afraid of getting sued,” she said. “It puts faculty between a rock and a hard place because I think we have a legal obligation to abide by the donors’ guidelines.” 

Scholarships donors say what kind of student they want their money to go to. It’s ultimately up to the scholarship committees to do their best to honor the donor’s wishes.

“If it is determined revisions to any gift agreements are necessary, the University will work closely with donors on the implementation of those revisions,” Ohio University spokesman Dan Pittman said in an email. “Because this review is ongoing, it would be premature for us to comment further on any potential outcomes, including the scope of impacted gift agreements.”

Ohio University Journalism Professor Bill Reader, who is on the journalism school scholarship committee, said he is not going to vote on scholarships this year unless he gets written clarification saying the university will legally defend him.

“They’ve tied my hands,” he said. “If I vote yes and get sued, they’re not going to defend me. If I vote no and get sued, they’re not going to defend me. I have no choice but to not vote.”

Reader said he has seen a list of scholarships but was told the list was incomplete. 

“I don’t think I’m authorized to talk about that,” he said when asked what scholarships were missing from the list. He did say he noticed five or six scholarships that were not on the list. 

The Scripps Howard Foundation has been giving out diversity scholarships to OU journalism students for decades, Reader said.

“There’s no information about whether they’re going to be given this year or not,” he said. “And there are some scholarships that are given by prominent alumni that are not appearing on the list. …  I don’t know if and when a complete list is provided, whether they’ll be on the list or not.

Ohio University Journalism Associate Professor Nerissa Young said it’s frustrating and discouraging this is how Yost has interpreted the Supreme Court decision. 

“It puts the faculty at risk and puts faculty in an untenable position as being part of the problem and if we’re not going to have any legal backing, or support to take action, I think our choices have been removed for us,” Young said. “I don’t want to be deposed for why did you vote for this scholarship and you didn’t vote for that scholarship?” 

Ohio University’s scholarship process 

OU’s scholarship application deadline for students was Feb. 1 and Dashiell said the journalism school scholarship committee typically has the official scholarship list by now, but she didn’t have an official scholarship list as of Friday afternoon. 

“Nothing technically has been deleted yet,” she said. “If we get the list, and those diversity scholarships are not on there, we’re not in a position to get those scholarships anyway.”

Scholarship committees have until late March to submit student names for the scholarships, Dashiell said. 

“Awarding scholarships is the happiest thing that we do on an annual basis, and until this year, it has been pretty simple,” Reader said. “… It has never been controversial. Until this year.”

Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on X.