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Ohio reviewing race-based scholarships after Supreme Court affirmative action ruling

Sedric Granger, a recent graduate of Ohio University, said he's leaving the school, and the state, with mixed feelings. Two scholarships earmarked for minority students that he received as an undergraduate didn't go to anyone this year.

"I'm thankful that I graduated at the exact right time because after this, there's going to be a lot of scholarships and a lot of money left on the table for so many students," he said.

Ohio University is reviewing a "small" number of awards intended for diverse students, according to spokesperson Dan Pittman.

Spokespeople at several Ohio universities, including Ohio State, Kent State and University of Akron have said they are reviewing race-based scholarships and programs for potential noncompliance.

State universities in Ohio are scrubbing racial criteria from their financial awards after the U.S. Supreme Court effectively ended affirmative action in college admissions last year.

The decision did not directly prohibit scholarships for students from protected classes, but officials in some conservative-led states have since said it should be interpreted that way.

In Ohio, Republican Attorney General Dave Yost sent a memo to universities a day after the decision, warning them to follow the decision with strict scrutiny by getting rid of any "disguised race-conscious admissions" or risk facing liability. Yost told state higher education leaders in January that proper compliance includes scholarships.

"Although the Court did not expressly prohibit race-based scholarships, it indicated that 'eliminating racial discrimination' means eliminating all of it,'" Yost's spokesperson Bethany McCorkle wrote in an email. "Race-based scholarships discriminate on the basis of race in awarding benefits. Therefore, it would follow that such programs are unconstitutional."

Republican Dave Yost gives his victory speech after winning the Ohio Attorney General race.
Justin Merriman / Getty Images
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Republican Dave Yost gives his victory speech after winning the Ohio Attorney General race.

Yost isn't alone. Missouri Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey cited the same part of the ruling in his own memo, warning them to "immediately end race-based affirmative action policies."

Some faculty and donors at Ohio University have been vocal in their frustration.

Andy Alexander, who with his wife Beverly funds an annual scholarship earmarked for underrepresented student journalists, said he's considering offering the award privately.

"If the state and the university interpret this as prohibiting private individuals from specifying that their scholarships be used to promote diversity, then I think there's nothing to stop people like me, my wife and I, from simply bypassing the university and finding a way to give our scholarship directly to students," he said.

Ohio University officials said because of the court's ruling and the attorney general's guidance, their review will go beyond race-based scholarships. They're now looking at awards that mention other protected classes, including gender-based scholarships.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Sarah Donaldson
[Copyright 2024 WOSU 89.7 NPR News]