Thursday, March 18, 2004

University of Hawaii

UH optimistic about
race-based waivers

On the same day a judge upheld Kamehameha Schools' native Hawaiians-only admission policy, federal officials met with University of Hawaii-Manoa administrators to investigate a racial discrimination complaint over a UH program that allows Hawaiian students to get tuition waivers.

C. Mamo Kim, the special adviser on Hawaiian affairs to the UH-Manoa chancellor, said the meeting in November was "positive."

"They were heartened by what happened, the decisions of the courts," Kim said yesterday. "They said to us that that was a very positive thing."

On Nov. 17, U.S. District Court Judge Alan Kay struck down a challenge by an unidentified non-Hawaiian student who argued that the Kamehameha Schools' policy of giving preference to Hawaiian students violated federal anti-discrimination laws.

The native Hawaiian tuition-waiver program at UH-Manoa is one of several discrimination investigations by the U.S. Department of Education's civil rights office.

Spokesman Carlin Hertz in the department's Office of Civil Rights in Washington confirmed the UH investigation.

"It involves a complaint about a violation under Title VI about discrimination based on race," he said.

Title VI was enacted as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.

Kim said the Office of Civil Rights is expected to send a letter outlining more questions.

The investigation involves the university's Kua'ana program, which grants 110 tuition waivers at UH-Manoa each year to native Hawaiian students with financial need, said Amy Agbayani, director of student equity, excellence and diversity at UH-Manoa.

Systemwide, UH gives out 250 tuition waivers a year at community colleges and other campuses, Agbayani said. She said the investigation does not involve other university programs that give preference to native Hawaiians.

Agbayani defended the Kua'ana program, saying native Hawaiian students are underrepresented at UH and that many cannot afford tuition.

"Native Hawaiians are in dire need of additional financial support to make sure higher education is accessible," she said.

In June the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the University of Michigan's race-conscious admission policies but also found that colleges must treat students as individuals and not accept or reject them from programs based solely on race.

Former Hawaii attorney John Goemans said the UH investigation is based on a complaint he filed nearly two years ago. Goemans was the lawyer in the Rice v. Cayetano lawsuit that resulted in the Supreme Court's Feb. 23, 2000, ruling striking down Hawaiians-only voting for trustees of the state's Office of Hawaiian Affairs as unconstitutional racial discrimination.

"By continuing these racial admission policies, the university puts at risk a very large amount of federal funding from the Department of Education which the department is obligated by law to terminate," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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