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Race-based scholarships under review at Ohio public colleges after affirmative action reversal

An archway welcomes students to Ohio University in Athens.
Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
An archway welcomes students to Ohio University in Athens.

Some of the state’s public colleges will eliminate race-based language from their scholarship awards, after Attorney General Dave Yost informed university leaders that he sees the criteria as unconstitutional under Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard.

The landmark U.S. Supreme Court case—decided last June—largely struck down affirmative action. The conservative justices, who command a six-seat majority, ruled that universities and colleges nationwide could no longer consider race as part of their application and admissions process because it violates the Fourteenth Amendment.

The day after the ruling, Yost sent a memo to Ohio’s universities. The letter warned them to follow the decision with strict scrutiny, including by getting rid of any “disguised race-conscious admissions,” or face potential personal liability.

Yost told leaders on a call in late January that proper compliance includes scholarships, according to his chief spokesperson Bethany McCorkle.

“Although the Court did not expressly prohibit race-based scholarships, it indicated that ‘eliminating racial discrimination’ means eliminating all of it,’” McCorkle wrote in an email Friday. “Race-based scholarships discriminate on the basis of race in awarding benefits. Therefore, it would follow that such programs are unconstitutional.”

Universities to tweak language

Ohio State University and Ohio University are now in the process of reviewing awards for potential noncompliance with that guidance, according to spokespeople for the public institutions.

At Ohio University, spokesperson Dan Pittman said although a “small” number are under review, it will be time-consuming—and extend beyond race to look at potential references to other protected classes.

Some awards have already been given the greenlight, he said, including one named after the university’s first Black graduate and first-year financial programs for students from urban and rural communities.

Spokespeople for the University of Cincinnati and Miami University did not answer an email requesting comment on whether any of their awards are under review.

Pushback from faculty, donors

Some faculty at Ohio University’s college of communications have been vocal in the last week against the university’s recent directive regarding diversity, equity and inclusion financial awards.

Eddith Dashiell, director of the journalism school, wrote a letter to Dean Scott Titsworth last Monday. In it, she said she felt convinced that disallowing race-based scholarships was “a political move—not a legal one.”

“The scholarship committee and the faculty remain obligated to honor the agreements signed between scholarship donors and Ohio University,” Dashiell wrote. “Regardless of the political whims of politicians in Columbus or anti-diversity sentiments among some members of Ohio University staff.”

Andy Alexander, a journalism school alumnus and retired news bureau chief, has funded a scholarship annually with his wife Beverly for more than 20 years. It is presently earmarked for “underrepresented” student journalists—born out of a passion, he said, for putting money toward more diverse newsrooms.

“It's not too much of a leap then, to understand that we're talking about either people of color, or in some cases it could be people from disadvantaged rural areas,” Alexander said in an interview.

Pittman said even before the June decision, Ohio University did not offer awards “using race or gender as an exclusive factor,” which is advice Alexander said he was given when first wording his. He is waiting to hear whether it’s going to be affected in its current state.

“If the state and the university interpret this as prohibiting private individuals from specifying that their scholarships be used to promote diversity,” Alexander said, “then I think there's nothing to stop people like me, my wife and I, from simply bypassing the university and finding a way to give our scholarship directly to students.”

He said he worries it will cause a chilling effect among other donors.

Sarah Donaldson covers government, policy, politics and elections for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. Contact her at