AN HEW ombudsman revealed last week that U.S. colleges endorsing Rhodes scholarship applicants may be in violation of the 1972 Education Amendment. Title IX of the Amendment prohibits sex discrimination by educational institutions receiving federal financial assistance.
Harvard's official endorsement of a male applicants only--in compliance with Cecil S. Rhodes's will--violates the Amendment stipulation barring unequal benefits to students on the basis of sex. The will's guidelines restrict eligibility to candidates exhibiting "qualities of manhood," thereby denying women a right to the scholarship awards.
Three highly-qualified Radcliffe women, the first females in Harvard history to apply for the grants, were summarily ignored by state committees of selection this fall on the basis of sex. A letter from Presidents Bok and Horner and 13 House fellowship advisers, urging revision of the statute to include women, drew generally negative response from both Rhodes trustees and state selection committees. These committees have cited their inability to change British law as reason for the continued restrictive stipulation.
Regardless of this British law, if the Amendment is violated, HEW could withhold federal funds from American colleges which refuse to endorse female applicants.
With this initiative from HEW, American universities have an unparalleled opportunity to pressure the Rhodes trustees by withdrawing from the scholarship program. Because American college students comprise over 40 percent of Rhodes scholars each year, withdrawal of U.S. universities from the competition could severely diminish the stature of the competition.
Although Rhodes trustees faced by this action could entrust endorsements to state selection committees, they could also encourage Parliament to revise the discriminatory will statute. It is unlikely that Parliament would oppose any revision once suggested by Rhodes trustees. It is equally unlikely that these college withdrawals would result in permanent exclusion from the Rhodes competition.
Harvard, which has dominated the competition consistently for the last six years, should withdraw immediately and encourage the withdrawal of Ivy League schools and all colleges involved. This step would place long-overdue pressure on state committees and trustees who have been unduly cautious in their efforts to revise the Rhodes will.
Continued exclusion of women in the Rhodes competition denies highly qualified females the prestige, distinction, and academic opportunity which the Scholarships provide. Because attempts to initiate formal negotiations with Rhodes trustees have proven ineffective, withdrawal from the competition appears to be the next logical and necessary action for American universities.