Last edited: January 01, 2005

Group Bashes WSU ‘Gay Service’ Scholarship

Eagle Forum Says Award Promotes Illegal Behavior

Deseret News, March 11, 2000
Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110
Fax: 801-237-2121

By Maria Titze, Deseret News staff writer

Conservatives are outraged, while higher education officials don’t appear concerned about a privately funded scholarship offered by Weber State University.

The scholarship, which would give $2,000 to a student who serves the gay, lesbian and bisexual communities, is an outrage, says the conservative Eagle Forum.

"I certainly intend to visit with some regents and others who I know have influence on (the Board of Regents), including the governor, about this," said Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Eagle Forum. "I think it’s absolutely inappropriate."

But the Board of Regents has no plan to address the issue at its meeting in St. George next week.

"At least, it isn’t on our agenda," said chairman Charlie Johnson. "Scholarships are handled by the administration and trustees of the institution."

Johnson said the question of scholarship donations made with controversial strings attached hasn’t ever come up in Utah before.

"We don’t know the answer because it’s not something we’ve looked at before," he said.

The scholarship, named by WSU students and professors in honor of Matthew Shepard, the gay Wyoming college student who was beaten to death in 1998, was originally intended only for students who were gay, lesbian or bisexual.

But the university’s legal counsel advised the availability of the award be broadened to include anyone who serves the gay, lesbian and bisexual communities, said WSU President Paul Thompson.

"There are two criteria. The first is academic excellence," he said. A 3.25 grade point average would be the threshold.

"The other is service to gay and lesbian students on our campus," he said.

Harden R. Eyring, executive assistant to the Commission of Higher Education, said "universities receiving gifts with restrictions" is neither uncommon nor troublesome.

"The only question you might ever have would be if the (scholarship grant) purpose were illegal," he said.

But sodomy is illegal in Utah, according to Ruzicka.

"And now we have a scholarship available to people who promote or serve that," she said. "Would they allow a scholarship that promoted the use of marijuana or encouraged teenagers to smoke? I don’t think so."

Ruzicka also questioned how "service" to the gay community would be defined.

"That’s the most insane thing," she said. "Anyone could get this (award) as long as they were promoting or encouraging an immoral and illegal lifestyle."

Thompson said students applying for the scholarship will be asked to write an essay explaining their contribution.

"It may mean participating in club activities, doing things to help provide a safer, more supportive climate on campus," he said.

Thompson said he’s fully aware the scholarship is "a sensitive issue, and it presents a lot of challenges."

"But our attorney has told us the closest precedent he can find is the East High Gay Alliance vs. the Salt Lake City School Board case," he said, where a federal judge ruled the district had to allow all extracurricular clubs or none.

"We’ve already accepted at least 50 donor-directed scholarships," he said. "If we were to reject this scholarship and be sued or challenged, we would put those other scholarships at risk."

Thompson also notes that many schools around the country have scholarships similar to WSU’s, including Iowa State, San Jose State and UCLA.

The University of Utah has no similar gay-service scholarship, but Kay Harward, associate vice president for student affairs, said "if someone came to us with money focused on a given lifestyle, we wouldn’t screen it out. We’d accept it and try to find people who fit the criteria."

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