HUNTINGTON, W.Va., August 9, 2006—Marshall University has taken the advice of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and removed racial restrictions from an orientation course for first-year students. Last year’s listing for University Studies 101 (UNI 101) stated that certain sections were limited to “African American Students Only.” Thanks to FIRE’s intervention, several sections of UNI 101 this coming fall will focus on “African American Student Issues,” but will not exclude any student based upon race or ancestry.
“FIRE is pleased that Marshall has changed the enrollment requirements for UNI 101,” stated FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “Students’ rights to take certain courses—especially at a public institution—must not be determined by the color of their skin.”
After learning last November that Marshall University limited enrollment in several UNI 101 sections to “African American Students Only,” FIRE quickly sent a letter to Marshall President Stephen J. Kopp explaining that racially segregated courses are both unlawful and misguided. FIRE reminded Kopp that Brown v. Board of Education and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 both prohibit racial discrimination in higher education.
FIRE also called on Kopp to respect Marshall’s University Creed, which states that Marshall “provides the opportunity to further the social growth of students by maintaining an environment conducive to learning how to get along with peers and how to handle differences such as race, ethnicity, and gender.” FIRE pointed out the irony in claiming to promote diversity by having separate “African American Students Only” sections that, instead of drawing students together by their common interests, admit or exclude students on the basis of their skin color.
Kopp responded to FIRE’s letter on November 15, 2005 by stating that “Although these sections appear to be based on race, they are in fact made up of both white and African American students.” FIRE replied that any student reading the official course description would have reasonably believed that certain sections were reserved for African American students. The description was therefore nearly as effective as enforced segregation in barring students of other races.
In response to FIRE’s objections, Marshall has changed the course description for UNI 101, so that several sections this coming fall will focus on “African American Student Issues,” drawing students concerned about African American issues instead of limiting enrollment by race.
Last October, FIRE won a similar victory at Arizona State University (ASU), where a professor had limited his English class to “Native Americans only.” After FIRE publicly criticized the segregated class sections, ASU disavowed the practice.
“‘Separate but equal’ was discredited decades ago,” stated Lukianoff. “Marshall University’s student body deserves equal treatment under the law, and we are glad that the university came to understand that.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty at Marshall University can be viewed at thefire.org/marshall.
Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org