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The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

UI deans, department heads grapple with diversity scholarship changes

After the university confirmed its restructuring of diversity scholarship criteria, college deans and department heads are feeling the impact on their own schools.
Cody Blissett/The Daily Iowan
The Old Capitol Building is seen in Iowa City on Tuesday April, 25, 2023.

In the wake of the University of Iowa’s decision to review and restructure diversity scholarships that are based on protected-class criteria, college deans and departmental heads are examining how their areas of study will be impacted.

With multiple colleges and dozens of academic departments, scholarships in majors and programs across the university are being reviewed, with departmental heads and deans in the thick of the changing academic landscape.

While some programs are already seeing changes to scholarships and grants, others will see no changes at all.

UI Deans reflect on scholarship review impact

For Tippie College of Business Henry B. Tippie Dean and Professor Amy Kristof-Brown, the scholarship review process will ultimately impact the college she leads.

“We have some donor-funded scholarships that have indicated that when applicants are equally qualified, a preference may be given to a student of a particular race or gender,” Kristof-Brown wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan. “The Univ. of Iowa Center for Advancement is working with those donors, when possible, to determine how best to fulfill their desires for how their money is applied, while meeting all legal requirements.”

Kristof-Brown wrote that any change to scholarships has the potential to impact colleges, especially for students who decide where to enroll based on financial aid and access.

Currently, Kristof-Brown wrote that she and other administrators are relying on the university to provide guidance on any changes, and they wait until the UI has released information about changes before communicating with students, faculty, and staff.

“The demand for business education continues to grow, as students see a direct pathway into stable, high paying careers,” she wrote. “The Tippie College is a premier, accessible college of business and we will continue to work to make it accessible to all interested and qualified students.”

As Tippie College of Business officials examine how scholarship changes will cause impact, the UI College of Nursing will not be impacted at all. Julie Zerwic, UI College of Nursing Kelting Dean and professor, said most of the college’s scholarships were already compliant in the wake of the overturning of affirmative action.

“Virtually all of our scholarships have limited criteria. So when I go talking to donors about scholarships, what happens is that most donors want to support the program,” Zerwic said. “So, for example, they may want to support undergraduate students and others want to support graduate students. So they may be limited by programs.”

Many of the College of Nursing scholarship criteria are based on merit and need as opposed to protected class characteristics.

“That is really the predominant criteria that we have for scholarships, because we want to make sure that the largest number of eligible students can apply for the scholarships that we have in the college. So there were very few permutations,” she said.

Ultimately, the College of Nursing’s goal is to recruit a diverse group of students, which will not change alongside the scholarship criteria changes across the state, Zerwic said.

Some UI department heads discouraged, troubled by changes

Similar to colleges across the UI, some departments are more affected by the changing scholarship landscape than others.

In the UI Department of History, graduate fellowships are going to be affected more than undergraduate scholarships.

Colin Gordon, chair of the UI Department of History, said there are two graduate fellowships — one curated for women graduate students and one for students from underrepresented minorities — that are going to change because they are based on protected class characteristics.

“One of the things that’s hard to navigate is that the donor has an intent, and so there’s a conflict between the legal imperative to open them up and the donor’s intent, because if somebody gives the university money for a particular thing, you can’t just change it without consulting with the donor,” Gordon said.

Gordon said he thinks the changing of scholarship criteria will hurt diversity at universities and make it more difficult to recruit a broad mix of students from different backgrounds.

“I think that our graduate college is being sort of overly cautious, like the Supreme Court decision was about admissions,” Gordon said. “It’s not clear that it applies to fellowships, especially for ongoing students. But I think the Graduate College is just being very cautious and saying nothing has a categorical eligibility.”

Thomas Oates, chair of the UI Department of American Studies, said his departmental scholarships and fellowships are affected by multiple factors, including the overturning of affirmative action by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2023.

“I know that there’s a lot of confusion about how to sort of abide by the changing state and federal legal landscape,” he said. “And so, I think that this is sort of a transitional year, and then next year, hopefully, there will be a lot more clarity about exactly how to manage those scholarships, opportunities, things like that used to be meant for improving the diversity of institutions.”

Oates said he thinks the changes will affect not only the diversity levels at the UI, but at universities across the country. Some schools are already changing their policies as a result of the Supreme Court case and state laws, including the University of Missouri.

Issues occur when people do not know the history and goal of scholarships aiming to help diverse students, Oates said. Diversity scholarships are a moderately new creation, and taking them away will only limit schools, he said.

“Diversity in this institution is good for this institution. It keeps our institution current; it keeps our institution global, expansive in the way it thinks of things … and so I do kind of worry about what will happen if we make this institution feel less welcome for people from all walks of life,” Oates said.

In the UI Department of Dance, however, the looming scholarship reviews will have limited changes because scholarships are awarded based on promise and merit as opposed to racial or ethnic factors, Rebekah Kowal, UI Department of Dance department executive officer, said.

“There are a few scholarships that are legacy scholarships, scholarships that have been in the department for a long time, that are gender-based and those are going to change … so that may come into play,” Kowal said. “In general, though, individuals who would receive those scholarships would be eligible for other scholarships, too.”

While a big part of the process will be talking to donors and figuring out how they want to continue to use their scholarship funds at the UI, Kowal said she is not worried about those conversations.

“In dance, it’s interesting because we are a female-dominated or female-identifying-dominated field, and so our general approach is to use our resources to the greatest extent possible to the most deserving students, regardless of identity,” Kowal said. “In a way, if these donors are open to it, then we may have the resources to support even more students than we did before.”

RELATED: Diversity scholarships under review at UI, regent institutions

UI Diversity Scholarships Under Review

UI officials told the DI in February that the school began reviewing scholarships after the overturning of affirmative action by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2023 and when some civil complaints started to be filed against other universities.

UI Assistant Vice President for External Relations Jeneane Beck wrote in a statement that the university consulted with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office and the Office of the Iowa Board of Regents on the matter.

“Based on the principles articulated by the Supreme Court, the university is reviewing and amending scholarships and other financial aid offerings that use certain protected class characteristics (e.g. race, gender, age, or sexual orientation) as selection criteria,” Beck wrote.

UI officials said less than 10 percent of all university scholarships are being reviewed and not all of those will have to change. The criteria and wording for affected scholarships will likely be changed to be inclusive of people from all backgrounds, as opposed to people from a specific ethnic or racial group.

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About the Contributor
Kate Perez
Kate Perez, Senior Reporter
Kate Perez is a third-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication with a minor in English and a Writing Certificate. Prior to her role as a Senior Reporter at The Daily Iowan, Kate was a News Editor, a Digital Producer, and an News Reporter. Outside of The Daily Iowan, Kate has held internships at USA TODAY, Iowa Public Radio, and the Iowa City Press-Citizen.