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Colorado AG’s Memo on Race-Based Scholarships Fans Political Flames

January 19, 1996

DENVER (AP) _ Colorado’s top prosecutor is pushing for an end to race-based scholarships at state colleges and universities, a move critics have assailed as a means to a political end.

Attorney General Gale Norton said her belief that students should be judged ``not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character″ is rooted in the words of Martin Luther King Jr.

Her confidential memo written to schools last month cited a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court decision and urged the schools to discontinue awarding race-based scholarships.

Norton’s memo also said schools cannot participate in selecting recipients for privately financed race-based scholarships.

No state or federally funded scholarships is awarded on a racial basis in Colorado, but private scholarships given to thousands of students might be affected, said Geri Reinardy, spokeswoman for the state’s higher education commission.

Norton said the memo was an attempt to answer questions about a high court decision, which let stand a sweeping ruling that a University of Maryland scholarship program restricted to black students was a form of unconstitutional reverse discrimination.

Critics have said she is using politically sensitive issues such as race and affirmative action to further her political career, and that Norton, a second-term Republican who has her sights set on the U.S. Senate, is espousing the antithesis of King’s dream of opportunity for all races.

Since the Dec. 13 memo was leaked to the press, Menola Upshaw, president of the Denver chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, has charged the attorney general with giving unsolicited advice ``that frankly would be of no concern to your office if you were not a declared candidate for the U.S. Senate.″

Recent polls show Norton leading Congressman Wayne Allard in this year’s GOP race for fellow Republican Hank Brown’s seat. Brown has decided against seeking a second term.

Norton said the memo was not intended to make political points.

``I find it interesting that people assume I’m grabbing for headlines when, in fact, I gave confidential advice that I never expected to see in the media,″ Norton said this week.

Some college officials have said the impact of her guidelines would be minimal; schools nationwide have been distancing themselves from race-based scholarships because of recent decisions by the courts and the federal Department of Education.

Reinardy said the higher education commission is concerned for colleges that are using private scholarships to ``recruit, retain, and, most importantly, graduate minorities.″

``It could very well be that some programs are eliminated because of the (Supreme Court) ruling,″ Reinardy said.

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