Historically Black colleges and universities probably won’t face another legal barrage now that the Supreme Court has eradicated single-gender education at Virginia Military Institute, discrimination law experts say.
However, Black schools that are also single-gender schools could risk losing federal funding received through student loans guaranteed by the government, said Percy Luney, North Carolina Central University Law School dean in Durham. All-male Morehouse College in Atlanta, Spelman College in Atlanta, Bennett College in Greensboro, NC, and other all-female schools across the country, receive federal funding through student loans and government contracts, Luney said.
The legal scholar said an argument could be built against them based on the notion that any type of federal funding, direct or indirect, should be open to scrutiny, if the institution discriminates on the basis of sex. “My gut reaction is that the ruling won’t differentiate between public and private schools. If they are getting federal funding through scholarships you cannot create a program that has an attribute like the military school and not offer it to the other sex,” Luney said.
Morehouse, Spelman and Bennett, although private schools, could be affected by the Supreme Court ruling last week that forces VMI in Lexington, VA and The Citadel in Charleston, SC to accept women into their all-male military colleges or lose state funding.
Still, it’s unlikely that the three private single-gender non-military schools would be next in line of legal action, said Ted Shaw, associate director and counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
“It is conceivable that someone could complain about the single-gender schools, but they’ve always been able to do that,” he said. “The critical issue here is that VMI is a state institution that offered a program to a specific group that wasn’t available anywhere else. it was an elite education for people who wanted it, but it wasn’t available to everyone,” Shaw said.
He agrees with Luney that, in general, black schools have little to be concerned about beyond the current legal assault on affirmative action. “No one is excluded from historically Black Institutions. I would not anticipate any impact on black schools. The law prohibits institutions from being single race,” he said. If someone white applies to a black school, race can’t be an issue. Said Shaw: “It’s against the law to exclude the individual based on race regardless if it’s a white institution or black institution.” At the same time schools can be majority Black, he noted.
Morehouse College administrators weren’t concerned. Morehouse has Spelman next door, said John Baker Brown, vice president for college relations. “There is no isolation for either school, plus several other co-educational schools that afford students choices without limitations,” Brown said.
“Morehouse, like Spelman, is a private institution which I assume puts it in a different category from VMI.” Both schools are part of the Atlanta University Center, which is the largest consortium of historically Black schools.
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