The Issues: Minority Scholarships

CBS News continues a month-long series titled "What Does It Mean To You?" focused on where the presidential candidates stand on major issues and how a vote for one or the other candidate might affect average people's lives.

In this report, CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews examines the positions taken by President Bush and Democratic rival John Kerry on minority-only programs and scholarships.

For Jody Walker, a top student at the Seton Hall Law School in Newark, the scholarship was perfect: It came with money and mentoring at Riker Danzig, a mostly white law firm that is aggressively recruiting minority lawyers.

"All this program is doing is addressing a specific issue -- that there are few black lawyers in New Jersey and across the nation," Walker said.

"We can attract business by having minority partners and business at our fimrs,'' said Glenn Clark, a managing partner at the firm .

Last year the Supreme Court ruled that colleges could pursue racial diversity -- but now the question is how far can they go? Specifically, to achieve diversity, can colleges sponsor programs, or scholarships that exclude whites?

The Bush administration believes Walker's scholarship is reverse discrimination. Brian Jones of the Department of Education said seeking diversity is legal, but not when it excludes whites.

"Because when you have a minority-only scholarship, you have said certain students, by virtue of nothing other than race, need not apply," Jones said. "It shouldn't be the first question, the last question, the only question."

In fact, the Bush Administration is investigating 34 colleges offering minority-only programs. Dozens of schools, including MIT, have dropped programs under pressure.

Kerry campaign spokesman Eric Holder says Kerry would reverse the Bush crack down on minority only, especially at schools with plenty of other scholarships open to whites.

"I think you'd see a drastic change in policy,'' said Holder.

"We need to support all of the diversity efforts we can," said Holder. "Sen. Kerry would come up with ways in which you could promote these programs."

Last year the Supreme Court ruled that colleges could pursue racial diversity -- but now the question is how far can they go?

"Diveristy in education is something to be promoted," said Seton Hall Law School Dean Patrick Hobbs. Hobbs says law schools today compete for top minority students and need minority only programs to bring those students in.

"If we're going to continue to attack programs that take race into account, if we're going to tear them all down, at the end of the day we're going to have a segregated society," Hobbs said.

Said Walker, the law school student: "Right now we have law firms that are predominantly white, and it's just not representative of our country."

The real diversity here is how the two candidates would solve that problem. John Kerry would keep Jody Walker's scholarship because it brings minorities to Seton Hall. Bush would keep the scholarship -- but only if whites could also apply.