- The Washington Times - Friday, February 14, 2003

A taxpayer-funded scholarship offered by the Texas Department of Transportation that excludes white applicants is discriminatory and needs to be opened to all races, an attorney for the American Civil Rights Institute said yesterday.
The California-based civil rights group, led by University of California regent Ward Connerly, ran an advertisement this week in the Daily Texan student newspaper at the University of Texas at Austin, informing readers of the scholarship and saying: "If you are white, you may be a victim of illegal discrimination."
The ad solicits white engineering students to question the constitutionality of the 13-year-old Conditional Grant Program allocated by the state transportation agency.
The scholarship application makes clear that the program, which allots up to $3,000 per semester, is available only to female and minority students majoring in civil engineering, computer science and information systems, and management information systems.
"This is a racially exclusionary policy which means that whites need not apply," said Edward Blum, director of legal affairs for the civil rights institute. "This isn't even a quota system; this is just not for white people. And if it is challenged, it will have a very difficult time standing up in court."
Mr. Blum said he has received more than 25 e-mail responses to the ad, mostly from its supporters and some from people offering to be plaintiffs in a legal challenge.
"What they can do, what they probably will do, is open this scholarship up to everybody," Mr. Blum said.
The scholarship was created in 1991 by the state Legislature, said transportation department spokesman Mike Cox, and "as a state agency we're responsible to abide by the law. We are a state agency. We don't have opinions on what the Legislature requires us to do."
Students who receive the scholarship are required to work for the department after graduation.
The scholarship bill was sponsored in the state Senate by Bill Ratliff, an engineer and Republican from east Texas.
He said yesterday that he understood the opposition to the scholarship.
The bill was a response to criticism from minority groups that they were underrepresented in the transportation department and as state employees in general, the lawmaker said.
"The fact was, and is, that we don't graduate many minority engineers," Mr. Ratliff said. "I thought this was a reasonable way to address the problem. But the court may tell us that we can't do this anymore."
The challenge to the race-based provision of the scholarship may find precedent in the 5th Circuit Appellate Court's declaration in a 1996 Texas case that race may not be used as a factor in admissions to public colleges and universities. In that case, the defendant schools were represented by the state Attorney General's Office.
The transportation department has not asked that office for any advice this time, a spokesman for Attorney General Greg Abbott said.
"[The transportation department] has quoted the education code, and we have not been asked to do anything," said spokesman Tom Kelley. "There is nothing that we can say about this until we are asked by the head of the department."

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