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Ohio legislative leaders weigh in on guidance to scrub race-based criteria from scholarships

Dan Konik

Attorney General Dave Yost told Ohio public university leaders in January he sees race as unconstitutional criteria for scholarship awards, nearly eight months after the U.S. Supreme Court ended affirmative action for college applications and admissions.

Following that Jan. 26 call, Ohio State University and Ohio University are in the process of reviewing awards for potential noncompliance, according to spokespeople for the public institutions.

The landmark federal case Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard—decided last June—largely struck down affirmative action. The conservative justices, who command a six-seat majority, ruled that universities and colleges nationwide could no longer consider race as part of their application and admissions processes because it violates the Fourteenth Amendment.

That decision didn't directly outlaw race-based financial awards, according to a spokesperson for Yost's office. Still, the state's chief law officer sees is it as part of the process.

“The attorney general, of course, is advising his client correctly that that's unconstitutional,” said Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima).

Huffman believes private donors should have a say in what they’re putting their money toward, he said Wednesday, as long as they’re following Yost’s read of the law.

“People give out scholarships for Italian students, for foreign students,” Huffman said. “I think that's all appropriate, because the donor wants to do what they want to do. Now, if it's exclusionary for certain people, I think the university’s under the obligation to reject that money.”

But Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) said Wednesday she is concerned about what she sees as incremental moves to take away opportunities for students of color in Ohio to get their foot in the door.

“To just erase the fact that racism does exist,” Antonio said. “My question to the attorney general is: what steps are we then going to take, to make sure that there's truly a level playing field? How are we going to do that?”

The recent directive did not sit well with some faculty and donors at Ohio University's college of communications, including Eddith Dashiell, the director of the journalism school.

“The scholarship committee and the faculty remain obligated to honor the agreements signed between scholarship donors and Ohio University,” Dashiell wrote last Monday in a letter to College of Communications Dean Scott Titsworth. “Regardless of the political whims of politicians in Columbus or anti-diversity sentiments among some members of Ohio University staff.”

Spokespeople for the University of Cincinnati and Miami University did not answer an email requesting comment on whether any of their awards are under review.

Sarah Donaldson covers government, policy, politics and elections for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. Contact her at
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