Challenging Racial Preferences at UConn

The Center for Individual Rights has filed a lawsuit in Connecticut on behalf of Pamela Swanigan, a graduate student in English at the University of Connecticut.  The suit alleges that Ms. Swanigan was not allowed to compete for a highly prestigious, merit-based scholarship despite being the top applicant the year she applied to UConn.  Instead she was routed into a less prestigious and largely segregated scholarship program intended to increase “diversity” (Ms. Swanigan is biracial).  As a result, she was deprived of the opportunity to compete for an academic award that would have benefited her career; what’s more, the diversity scholarship did not provide funds for off-campus dissertation work, an option that Ms. Swanigan wanted and thought she was getting.

CIR’s president, Terry Pell, said in a press release:  “This is about more than one applicant’s experience at UConn. Many top universities offer diversity scholarships which are awarded on the basis of race. While the Supreme Court has said that race may be a plus factor in admissions decisions, it has never said race can be the basis for scholarship awards once an applicant has been admitted. A scholarship awarded on the basis of race inevitably stigmatizes talented minority applicants, who come to be recognized for their race rather than their considerable academic achievements.”

To put this in lawyer’s terms:  I’m not at all convinced that there is a “compelling” interest in considering race for admissions into an English graduate program, even under the Court’s misguided precedents, let alone that the racially discriminatory award of scholarships is “narrowly tailored” to whatever that interest might be.  It’s great that we have another federal case in this area, and kudos to Ms. Swanigan and CIR!


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