For decades Columbia University has earned accolades for its higher education — the school is a diverse, liberal, intellectual haven nestled in the urban surroundings off Broadway in Manhattan – which Columbia’s “whites only” tuition fellowship even more shocking.
It is the last place where one would expect race to be a factor in the denial of tuition dollars for academic achievement, but that appears to have been the case until 1997, when the school stopped awarding the fellowship. The grant is now at the center of a Manhattan Supreme Court case, after papers were filed Monday.
The racial controversy revolves around the Lydia C. Roberts Graduate Fellowship — a 93-year-old grant — that specifies it is be awarded to only “a person of the Caucasian race.” Bizarrely, Roberts only considered Caucasian Americans from Iowa, who weren’t pursuing a law degree, for the fellowship. Potential fellowship recipients had to promise they would return to Iowa for two years following graduation.
Another clipping from the era touts 38 white students receiving the fellowship and highlights an additional quirk behind the scholarship.
Roberts was reportedly reclusive, and spent most of her time living inside the Woodward Hotel. At the time of her death she left over $500K dollars in her estate to cover the fellowships.
A University spokesman did not allow PIX11 on campus and refused to comment. In a statement, officials stressed their disappointment and indicated Columbia does not follow gift conditions that violate anti-discrimination laws.