Civil rights officials investigate racial discrimination by state regents

Sunday, July 6th 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Federal officials are investigating state higher education regents on allegations of racial discrimination regarding Langston University's Tulsa campus.

The U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights in Dallas began the inquiry several months ago after a complaint from Langston alumni, The Sunday Oklahoman reported in a copyright story.

A July 10, 2002, letter from Langston alumni from Tulsa and Muskogee said the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education repeatedly undermined the historically black university's efforts to establish a strong branch in Tulsa.

"It's bad to the point that enrollment has been severely affected," said Vernetta I. Wilson, Tulsa chapter president of the Langston University National Alumni Association. "You just don't know what to do."

Wilson's group filed the complaint with federal civil rights officials seven or eight months ago, she said.

The group says the Tulsa campus of Oklahoma State University has been favored.

From fall 2000 to spring 2003, OSU-Tulsa enrollment has grown from 1,425 to 2,333 while Langston-Tulsa enrollment has declined from 1,551 to 756, records show.

Higher Education Chancellor Paul Risser said decisions to allow other universities to expand course offerings in Tulsa were not made to harm Langston.

"We, of course, think that we're trying to provide the best education that we can to as many students as possible," Risser said. "I think there's been a real faithful attention to the statewide plan for Langston."

Federal civil rights officials requested a meeting with Risser two months ago to discuss the complaint. The chancellor asked for a delay because the Oklahoma Legislature was wrapping up and he wanted to be there to protect the interests of higher education.

The meeting still hasn't happened.

In a letter to Risser, the civil rights office cited three major allegations:

-- The state failed to provide adequate funding to Langston-Tulsa, while instead providing funding to OSU-Tulsa.

-- The state diminished Langston-Tulsa programs by allowing OSU and other schools to duplicate Langston's courses in Tulsa.

-- The state failed to establish a trustee board to assist Langston-Tulsa in implementing its mission related to desegregation.

Langston's main campus is about 10 miles east of Guthrie in central Oklahoma.

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