Marshall University has dropped the words "African-American students only" from an orientation class listing on its fall schedule, following a warning from an educational foundation that it could be violating state and federal law.
In the Fall 2005 course schedule, the racially restrictive phrase appeared on the comment line for three UNI 101 orientation classes. This year, the phrase has been removed, though the one-credit elective course continues to be offered.
"In the case of Marshall, which is a public college, they did the right thing by taking action and dropping this language," said Greg Lukianoff, president of Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a Philadelphia-based nonpartisan, nonprofit group.
The organization sent a letter to Marshall University in November 2005 asking it to drop the language, citing court decisions dating back to the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954 that separate is not equal in education.
A spokesman for Marshall University said the courses were proposed and developed nearly a decade ago by black faculty members in hopes of building a sense of community for black freshmen students. Of Marshall’s 9,861 undergrads, less than 5 percent, or 462, are black.
"These courses were initiated at the request of our African-American faculty because they felt it would be in the best interest of the African-American community to form a bond because this is a predominantly white community," said Keith Spears, vice president of communications.
Spears added that though the phrase appeared on the schedule of classes, it was not enforced and both black and white students had taken the course.
"Regardless, of the intention, and even if they don’t enforce it, it’s a facially unconstitutional rule at a public institution," Lukianoff said. "In terms of labeling a class ‘African-American students only’ – having it as a published rule accomplishes it as a restriction."