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University of Missouri wants to remove race criteria from scholarships and funds

The six independently standing columns in front of Jesse Hall serve as a major landmark at the University of Missouri. Credit: Sara Shahriari / KBIA
Sara Shahriari
The six independently standing columns in front of Jesse Hall serve as a major landmark at the University of Missouri. The university system filed a petition to remove the racial and ethnic criteria on at least 53 donated scholarships and funds across its four campuses.

The University of Missouri Curators filed a petition last week to change the use of donations from their original purpose of providing financial opportunities to students from specific racial and ethnic backgrounds.

According to the filing, the change would impact a minimum of 53 funds across UM’s four campuses by removing any "racial criteria" and leaving all other wording intact. A review of some of the funds shows they can range from several thousand dollars to more than $100,000 each.

"The courts have authority to modify these gift instruments that private people and corporations have created to set up trusts, gifts, etc. with nonprofit institutions," said Steven Hoffmann, a licensed attorney in St. Louis.

A university spokesperson said no one could comment about the filing Monday.

Affected gifts would include dozens of scholarship funds, including the AT&T Microelectronics Power Systems Minority Endowed Scholarship Fund at Missouri University of Science and Technology, the Saint Louis Symphony Scholarship at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, the Minority Medical Student Scholarship Fund at MU and the George Salisbury Jazz Scholarship at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

According to the petition, the terms of the gifts cannot be lawfully applied after the U.S. Supreme Court decision last June, in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College.

SCOTUS decided in the case that race cannot be used as a factor in the admissions process of universities receiving federal assistance. On the day of the ruling, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey warned in a letter that the decision further applies to other aspects of education, like scholarships.

According to the letter, "Institutions subject to the U.S. Constitution or Title VI must immediately cease their practice of using race-based standards to make decisions about things like admissions, scholarships, programs and employment."

But Hoffmann said it's unclear whether Bailey's opinion, which is that the SCOTUS ruling also applies to scholarships, has any legal basis.

"There's nothing in the opinion from the Supreme Court — in the case versus Harvard — that talks about scholarships at all," Hoffmann said. "It doesn’t mention the word scholarship once in the opinion, because it’s not concerned about scholarships. It's because that case is concerned about admission."

Instead of changing how the scholarships are used, Hoffmann said that UM can continue to give out scholarships so long as there’s no court order directing otherwise, or it can return the money to donors. Otherwise, the legal filing could take months to reach a decision, and donors may be able to sue UM in the meantime.

"The Ford Endowed Scholarship Fund, Anheuser-Busch African-American Scholarship, I mean, these are groups that don't really need the money, but that could probably put significant pressure on the university if they wanted to, and certainly have the funds to wage a legal battle to oppose what the university is doing here," Hoffmann said.

Katelynn McIlwain is the Managing Editor of Audio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri.
Finnegan Belleau