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September 29, 2005

The University of Oregon has ended a policy that some students charged discouraged white students from enrolling in certain sections of some courses.

Under the policy, an office that provides academic support to minority students could certify for enrollment up to 10 students in 18-student sections of selected English and mathematics courses, generally introductory courses. These sections are smaller than other sections, allowing for more personal interaction.

The Oregon Daily Emerald wrote about the policy last year, describing the experience of a white student who wanted to enroll in one of the sections, and who felt discriminated against because of her race. The remaining slots in the courses were open to other students, including white students, but this student reported being given the run-around when trying to enroll. "I shouldn't have to wait just because I'm white," the student was quoted as saying.

The article in The Daily Emerald prompted College Republicans to protest the policy and led one conservative student, Melissa Hanks, to complain to the U.S. Department of Education, although she had never tried to enroll in one of the courses. "I got a bee in my bonnet about this," said Hanks, who graduated from Oregon in the spring and is now studying anthropology at Oregon State University. "It's just not right to exclude people because of their skin color."

A spokesman for the University of Oregon said that the university decided to change the policy after receiving a complaint from a student, and that the decision did not involve the Education Department. Oregon released a statement that stressed that the reserved slots were not open to just any minority students, but only to those who had been certified for the courses by the Office of Multicultural Academic Support, which serves only minority students.

Under the new policy for the courses, pre-certification will still be required, but a number of other offices at Oregon will be able to certify students. Most of those offices are also for minority students, but one of them is a general program to provide academic support to undergraduates of all races. Adding that office, the statement said, "ensures that those receiving priority registration will be racially diverse."

Hanks said that she was pleased that a wider range of students would be eligible for the priority registration.

But Colin Smith,  a field organizer for the Oregon Students of Color Coalition, criticized the university for changing its policy on the courses. "Recruitment and retention rates are going down, and no one is supporting students of color," he said. "This is just another part of the culture of backlash against underprivileged groups."

 

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