In my research as a labor economist, I discovered that the Lawton program, offering aid exclusively to minority and disadvantaged students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is operating illegally—Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits Federal aid going to members of certain racial and ethnic groups, and not others, as Lawton does. That was 11 years ago, and the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education still hasn’t managed to rule on my formal complaints.
Not that there is any doubt about the Lawton Undergraduate Minority Retention Grants. Eligibility continues to be restricted to minority groups specified as “African American, Hispanic American, Native American, South East Asians.”
To my periodic inquiries about the delay in ruling, OCR offers several stock responses. It claims in a February 2009 letter that my complaints “involve highly complex legal issues.” OCR claims in that same letter it “is proceeding as expeditiously as possible.” In an October 2013 letter OCR refers again to the “complexity of the issues involved.”
Anyone wanting to inquire about the status of my complaints or any other unresolved complaints will be frustrated by OCR’s record-keeping practices. Based on a recent FOIA request for a chronological listing of all Title VI complaints filed against post-secondary institutions, I discovered that OCR no longer lists the names of institutions whose long-standing complaints have not been resolved. I could identify my complaints only because I knew their docket numbers and the dates they were filed.
The cards seem to be stacked against any quick ruling on my complaints. I suspect UW is trying to find some way to rationalize its continuing discrimination under the Lawton Program. At the same time, I suspect OCR is trying to find some way to avoid ruling that the UW is violating Title VI. The likely reason: concern that doing so would jeopardize similar racially-exclusive scholarship programs at other colleges and universities.