The Dow Jones Newspaper Fund has agreed to cease operating summer journalism programs solely for minority students in response to a lawsuit filed by an advocacy group critical of affirmative action.
As part of a legal settlement announced today, the fund — which had been operating more than 20 programs for minority high-school students in connection with colleges — agreed to open up the programs to members of any racial or ethnic group and to rename the programs to drop references to minority members. The fund, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Dow Jones & Company, publisher of The Wall Street Journal, has helped finance the programs for four decades with the goal of inspiring minority students to pursue careers in newspaper journalism.
Today’s settlement comes in response to a federal lawsuit filed in September by the Washington-based Center for Individual Rights. The lawsuit challenged a summer program for minority student journalists operated by the newspaper fund, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Media General Inc., publisher of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The suit alleged that the program’s race-exclusive eligibility criteria violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law, as well as various federal civil-rights statutes, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits racial and ethnic discrimination by educational institutions that receive federal funds.
The plaintiff in the case had been Emily Smith, a junior at Monacan High School, in Virginia’s Chesterfield County, who submitted an application to participate in the Virginia Commonwealth summer program last March. The lawsuit alleged that Virginia Commonwealth initially notified Ms. Smith that she had been accepted for the workshop but then rescinded its offer after one of its faculty members called Ms. Smith, asked her race, and learned that she was white.
As part of the settlement, Virginia Commonwealth agreed to offer Ms. Smith admission to its workshop for 2007 and agreed that, if she accepted, she would “not be discriminated against on the basis of her race or because she filed the lawsuit.”
The Dow Jones Newspaper Fund’s guidelines for newspapers and colleges involved in its summer workshops previously had said that “each participant must be a minority (defined as U.S. citizens who are black, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander, American Indian, or Alaskan Native).”
Among the other colleges involved in the race-exclusive programs last summer were Florida A&M, Kent State, Marquette, Monmouth, New York, San Francisco State, and Seattle Universities, and the Universities of Alabama, Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Missouri, and Texas at El Paso.
In announcing the settlement of the lawsuit, Terence J. Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, said, “Virginia Commonwealth University deserves credit for taking the lead in promptly settling this case. Today’s settlement saves the taxpayers significant legal expense and ensures that this summer’s programs will be open to all, regardless of race.”