Conservative professor sues University of Minnesota for excluding white students from summer internship program — and may have scored a victory
A professor at an Ivy League school in New York may have scored a victory against the University of Minnesota after he sued the school for discriminating against white students in one of its summer internship programs.
This spring, UMN pitched its Multicultural Summer Research Opportunities Program to undergraduate “students of color and Native Americans” in the hopes that many of those who complete the program would someday choose to attend graduate school. According to screenshots reportedly taken of the UMN website, qualified applicants for MSROP, which begins on June 5 and continues until August 11, had to “identify as a Student of Color or Native American” and provide “demographic information” which would support that racial identification. Those admitted into the program would pair up with a mentor professor and earn a $6,000 stipend as they engaged in more challenging academic research. The application process was closed in early March, and the successful candidates were notified in early April.
However, William Jacobson, a self-identified “conservative” who works as a securities law professor at Cornell University, got wind of the program and soon afterward filed a lawsuit against the school for barring white students from applying. “There is an increasing trend where people think it’s OK to discriminate on the basis of race as long as the discrimination is against whites or Asians or others, and we don’t accept that,” Jacobson said.
By “we,” Jacobson likely meant his conservative nonprofit group, the Equal Protection Project. On behalf of the EPP, Jacobson and colleague Ameer Benno sent a letter to the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education, alerting officials to the discriminatory program at UMN and asking the OCR to intervene. “Discrimination against white applicants is just as unlawful as discrimination against black or other non-white applicants,” the letter stated. “There is no good form of racial discrimination.
“Because UMN receives federal funding,” it continued, “OCR had the power and obligation to make UMN stop and to impose whatever remedial relief is necessary.” The letter than lists possible steps that the OCR could take, from “imposing fines” to “referring the case to the Department of Justice.”
At this point, though, it appears such interventions may not be necessary. Though the UMN website still references a “10-week summer research program for undergraduates of color” and still lists MSROP among the school’s many summer research programs, links associated with those postings now direct users to a program entitled Pathways to Graduate School, not MSROP. All references to applicants’ racial identity appear to have been scrubbed from the Pathways page, though the rest of it looks remarkably similar to the screenshots of MSROP that Jacobson and Benno included in their letter.
In addition, a spokesperson for the university hinted that coordinators may have already adjusted their “selection criteria” so that the program no longer discriminates against white applicants. UMN “regularly revisits the selection criteria across thousands of different grants, scholarships and other financial awards provided to our students each year,” the spokesperson said on Monday, and would be “evaluating the criteria for this student support program as part of this routine process and make any appropriate updates.”