Missouri House Dems call on Mizzou to resume race-conscious admissions and scholarships

Missouri’s Democratic members of Congress on Thursday called on the University of Missouri to resume race-based admissions and scholarships, despite a June U.S. Supreme Court decision that declared affirmative action policies violated the constitution.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat, and Rep. Cori Bush, a St. Louis Democrat, said the University of Missouri’s decision was rushed and did not explore whether the Supreme Court’s decision affected the university’s existing policies.

“The Court severely limited the ability of higher education institutions to consider an applicant’s race alone,” the lawmakers wrote. “However, the opinion does not prohibit universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affects their lives.”

Bush and Cleaver also said the Supreme Court did not expressly prevent colleges from having race-based scholarships.

The Supreme Court ruling, issued in June, struck down the race-based admission policies of the University of North Carolina and Harvard College, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing that they involve racial stereotyping and employ race in a negative manner.

After the ruling was handed down, the UM System announced that it would be stopping all race-based admissions and race-based scholarships moving forward. The system covers four campuses in Columbia, Kansas City, St. Louis and Rolla.

However, UM System President Mun Choi, who is also chancellor of the University of Missouri-Columbia, said the system would continue to honor current scholarships that had a racial component.

The decision also followed a letter from Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey, who demanded that colleges and local governments in the state immediately end all affirmative action policies.

Choi told reporters at the time that the university system did not use race-based admission at the undergraduate level. However, at the University of Missouri’s main campus in Columbia, about 20 of the university’s 150 graduate-level programs used race as part of a “holistic approach” for admissions.

The decision came as Mizzou has had a fraught relationship with race, including student-led protests in 2015 that criticized inaction by university leaders after a string of racist incidents.

“The Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action set our nation back decades—but the UM System should not have set us back further than necessary by blocking race-based scholarships for the few students of color who are even admitted to these institutions,” Cleaver said. “It is imperative that we work to ensure the UM System is providing equitable opportunities to Missourians of all backgrounds.”

The university, founded in 1839, didn’t allow its first Black student until 1950. Black students now make up only 5.25% of the student population while white students make up 76.3%, according to the most recent data online. Black Missourians make up about 12% of the state’s population.

In March, the university system also quietly scrapped the use of diversity statements in its hiring processes as Republican lawmakers considered legislation that would ban public colleges from asking job candidates questions about diversity and race.

Bush and Cleaver cited the history of racial discrimination at the University of Missouri – specifically the cases of Lloyd Gaines, a Black man who was denied access to the University of Missouri Law School in 1936, and Lucile Bluford, a Black woman who was accepted into the University of Missouri journalism school but denied enrollment in 1939 because of her race. Gaines won his case while Bluford lost hers.

The lawmakers said Missouri is still far from achieving racial equality in education. The graduation rate for Black students in the University of Missouri System is 20% lower than for white students.

“Ultimately, we believe that admissions and scholarship considerations should be made with the

interests of students in mind,” the lawmakers wrote. “While we hoped that Missouri colleges and universities would make the best choices for their future students, it is clear there is much progress to be made.”