CIR files class action lawsuit challenging VCU, Dow Jones Fund

Challenges minority-only national journalism program

Today the Center for Individual Rights (CIR) filed a class action lawsuit challenging a minority-only summer journalism workshop sponsored by Virginia Commonwealth University, the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund, and the Richmond Times Dispatch.

CIR alleges the program violates the right of non-minority individuals to equal protection under the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In addition, the program illegally discriminates on the basis of their race in violation of federal law, specifically 42 U.S.C. secs. 1981, 1983 and 2000d, et. seq. The suit seeks to enjoin VCU, the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund, the Richmond Times Dispatch and other defendants from continuing to exclude Caucasian students from these programs.

“A 100% racial quota does not further diversity in any way, shape or form. A segregated program says it’s OK to use special, separate rules for certain races,” stated CIR President Terence Pell. “It’s a short step from that to the more malignant idea that some racial groups can’t compete on the same level as everyone else. No one thinks it’s right for the state ever to say that.”

In early 2006, Emily Smith, a 15-year-old Caucasian student at Monacan High School in Virginia applied to the “Urban Journalism Workshop” at VCU. Emily met all of the qualifications for the workshop except for one — she was the wrong race. (The application materials did not ask her to state her race.) In April, Emily received an e-mail message which said that she had been accepted to the program. However, a week later, when program officials called her home to inquire into Emily’s race, she was told that because she was Caucasian she could not participate in the program.

The VCU program is one of dozens of identical programs conceived and funded by the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund, a non-profit foundation affiliated with Dow Jones, Inc. named as a defendant in CIR’s suit. The Fund requires that its summer journalism workshops be limited exclusively to minority students. The Dow Jones Fund solicits proposals from universities to run workshops according to requirements set by the Fund. According to the Fund’s written proposal guidelines, “[e]ach participant must be a minority (defined as U.S. citizens who are Black, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander, American Indian or Alaskan native.)” Last year, the Fund funded approximately 26 programs across the nation, of which half were sponsored by public universities.

The Dow Jones Fund requires that program sponsors also obtain a promise of financial support from a newspaper, which also is expected to donate the time of minority professionals full time during the workshop. VCU obtained support for its program from the Richmond Times Dispatch a daily newspaper in Richmond, Virginia.

In the last several years, many major universities have abandoned race-exclusive programs, including Princeton University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard Business School. And in February 2006, Southern Illinois University acceded to threatened legal action by the U.S. Department of Justice and entered into a consent decree obligating it to end several race exclusive graduate programs.

“It is time to put an end to these discriminatory programs,” said Pell.