BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A nonprofit group that seeks “to ensure equal protection under the law” filed a civil rights complaint against the University at Buffalo School of Law for operating a program that the group alleges gives students of color explicit racial preference.
The June 27 complaint by The Equal Protection Project of Rhode Island alleges the law school’s Discover Law Undergraduate Scholars Program “explicitly gives admission preference to students of color” over white students.
The program’s website states that preference “is given to students of color and first-generation college students” and has been sponsored by the UB Office of the Provost and the UB Vice Provost for Inclusive Excellence.
As a result, The Equal Protection Project (EPP) said the program violates both Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
The group asked the federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate the program and impose any remedial relief it might deem necessary, including fines and potential termination of the program.
“Because a law school should be presumed to know the law, the discrimination here was intentional,” the complaint alleges.
A brochure for the program asks how “we can make the legal profession look more like America.”
“Invite more diverse and talented students to consider legal education and a legal career – and support them to make that dream a reality. … Focusing on Students of Color who have completed one to three years of college, the program is helping to diversify law school classes, and eventually the profession, one promising young person at a time.”
The EPP’s complaint argues the program does not meet either of the two standards that the Supreme Court has deemed in prior decisions “compelling enough to justify racial classifications.”
The University at Buffalo declined to comment on the complaint.
Legal challenges of higher education programs that favor applicants based on race are on the rise, and the Equal Protection Project itself has filed numerous similar civil rights complaints against SUNY Albany, Missouri State University, and the University of Minnesota.
Founded by Cornell Law School professor William A. Jacobson, the EPP investigates programs at public institutions that use race as a criteria for acceptance.
Jacobson often appears on conservative news programs to rail against public institutions he believes are involved in systemic racism by supporting programs that give preferential treatment based on skin color.
Most recently, Jacobson appeared on Fox Business for commentary on the Supreme Court’s decision Thursday to overturn affirmative action programs at higher universities.
Jacobson said the “extraordinarily important decision” sent a clear message that “an individual is to be judged as an individual, not based on race.”
“And that is something that a lot of universities particularly have gotten away from,” he said.
Defenders of such programs have long argued they are needed to provide equal access to minorities from disadvantaged communities, whose challenges have been exacerbated by historical discrimination, such as redlining and segregation.
SUNY has not directly responded to the complaints.
But SUNY’s response to Thursday’s Supreme Court decision revealed how the state’s system of public colleges and universities views programs that give preference to minorities from disadvantaged communities.
The SUNY Board of Trustees and Chancellor John King Jr. said the Supreme Court’s decision “will have serious impacts on students and families seeking the American dream of opportunity through higher education.”
“Race-conscious admissions policies have enriched our institutions and our nation,” they said in a prepared statement. “Yet despite the existence of race-conscious admissions policies, Black and Latino students, along with other groups, are still underrepresented across institutions of higher education as students, faculty members, and administrators.”