Higher Education

Complaint alleges racial discrimination at OU

June 2, 2022

Ray Carter

A newly filed federal civil-rights complaint accuses the University of Oklahoma of imposing illegal racial discrimination through its practice of offering medical scholarships to students based on race.

The civil-rights complaint was filed on June 1 with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights by the organization Do No Harm.

“We’re against racism in medicine,” said Dr. Stanley Goldfarb, board chair of Do No Harm. “And when you start dividing students up based on their race, that’s something that we’re against. This scholarship, it specifically says these are the races that are eligible for this scholarship. That’s what we’re against. We want everybody treated equally.”

On its website, Do No Harm is described as “a diverse group of physicians, healthcare professionals, medical students, patients, and policymakers united by a moral mission: Protect healthcare from a radical, divisive, and discriminatory ideology. We believe in making healthcare better for all—not undermining it in pursuit of a political agenda.”

The group’s mission includes drawing “attention to the radical ideology of ‘anti-racism’ in healthcare,” which the organization warns is “increasingly embedded within medical education and training, medical research, medical practice, and medical public policy, and it’s promoting divisive and discriminatory ideas.”

“We’re against racism in medicine. When you start dividing students up based on their race, that’s something that we’re against.” —Dr. Stanley Goldfarb, board chair of Do No Harm

Do No Harm filed complaints against five universities nationwide, including OU, that Do No Harm officials say are engaged in illegal racial discrimination because the schools “offer scholarships that are eligible to people of certain races, which is incompatible with the Constitution and federal law.”

The group says OU’s allegedly illegal practices exceed what occurs at most schools.

“While more than 140 medical schools and institutions nationwide offer questionable scholarships, these five medical schools are particularly noteworthy,” Do No Harm stated in a release.

Do No Harm’s complaint notes that the University of Oklahoma–Tulsa School of Community Medicine has a “Visiting Underrepresented in Medicine Student Elective Program” that provides a $1,500 stipend to participants.

“These financial benefits and professional opportunities, however, are strictly limited to individuals of certain races or ethnicities,” the complaint notes, referencing documents in which the university “openly admits” and “indeed, advertises” the fact that eligibility is tied to a student’s race.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that “no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

As a recipient of federal funds, OU is required to comply with Title VI and, by extension, the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, based on prior court rulings.

“The University is flagrantly violating these obligations,” Do No Harm’s civil-rights complaint states.

Do No Harm says OU’s “Visiting Underrepresented in Medicine Student Elective Program” imposes “facially discriminatory eligibility standards,” and asks the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to “act swiftly to remedy unlawful policies and practices, and order appropriate relief.”

Mackenzie Scheer, director of media relations at the University of Oklahoma, said the university “has not been made aware of a complaint” made against the OU-Tulsa School of Community Medicine. Scheer described the Visiting Underrepresented in Medicine Student Elective Program as an effort “to recruit medical residents from underrepresented backgrounds, including those who are first-generation college students and those from underrepresented communities, in an effort to increase the number of providers available to work with rural and underrepresented community-based populations in Oklahoma,” but did not directly address the legal concerns raised about the a program.

In their announcement, officials with Do No Harm said they hope the five complaints will start “a trend of medical schools abandoning racial discrimination in favor of equal treatment for all.”

NOTE: This story has been updated to include a response from OU. The university did not respond until a day after comment was first requested and following the initial publication of this story.