- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2002

Arizona State University will end its racial restriction on enrollment for a course in Native American history a policy that critics argued made race an "explicit" barrier to learning.

Responding to critics' concerns, ASU administrators said they will remove the phrase in the 2002 course catalog that said class enrollment for "History 191: Navajo History" was "limited to Native American students."

University officials said in a letter that class enrollment was not limited to American Indian students because the class had admitted one non-Indian student last fall. Nevertheless, officials said they will remove the phrase.

"We were unaware of the limitation on enrollment" in the class, the university's deputy general counsel Mary C. Stevens wrote in the May 8 letter to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). FIRE, a civil rights organization in Philadelphia, contacted the university after a concerned student notified the group about the restriction.

"We are removing the enrollment limitation for the fall 2002 course listings," Miss Stevens wrote.

The new description now says the class is "designed for Native American students, but available to all first-year students."

The issue at ASU comes several months after administrators at Florida International University (FIU) came under fire for the university's racial and ethnic requirements for three Spanish-language courses. Each requirement, in that case, limited enrollment to "Hispanic bilinguals educated in the U.S. whose mother tongue is Spanish," "U.S. Hispanic bilinguals," or "U.S. Hispanics bilinguals only."

University officials reworded the requirements after FIRE contacted them. "Ours is a multiethnic, multicultural university to which few universities, we believe, can compare," said Thomas Mead Santoro, FIU's general counsel. "We value and promote that diversity."

Racial restrictions on college courses are rare, educators said. It's common to have prerequisites for advanced classes, but to limit enrollment based on ethnicity is unheard of these days, said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers in Washington.

"This is a rare exception rather than the norm," Mr. Nassirian said.

In the ASU case, history professor Peter Iverson inserted the restriction when he wrote the description sometime last year, administrators said. "His intentions were laudable," Miss Stevens said. "It wasn't meant to harm anyone. We have a strong diversity goal here and anything that counters that is not tolerated."

After a student complained in April, FIRE President Alan Kors sent a letter to university President Lattie Coor, arguing that such restrictions are "dangerous."

"Substitute 'The History of Slavery for U.S. blacks only,' 'The History of Israel for Jewish-Americans only,' or 'The History of Germany for Aryan-Americans only' in those descriptions to understand how morally inappropriate and dangerous these requirements are," Mr. Kors said. "It is truly frightening to imagine a world where universities would segregate topics, education and therefore knowledge on the basis of what they deem appropriate to each race."

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