Higher Education

OU sued for racist scholarship practices

Ray Carter | May 16, 2024

A class-action lawsuit has been filed in federal court accusing the University of Oklahoma of basing scholarship aid on race, violating the constitutional rights of numerous students in the process.

The class-action lawsuit seeks damages for impacted students, alleging OU violated the students’ rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Despite prior court rulings, including a 2023 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that outlawed the use of race in college admissions, the complaint states that “racial preferences continue to exist at the University of Oklahoma.”

“Rather than determining who to admit based on their race, the University of Oklahoma determines how much financial aid it gives to students based on their race,” the complaint states. “That is unlawful.”

As evidence of illegal racial discrimination, the complaint cites a statistical analysis of publicly available data that “indicates that the University of Oklahoma considers race when awarding financial aid to its students.”

The analysis found that black students were given greater amounts of scholarship aid than similarly situated non-black students.

“Based on the University of Oklahoma’s published enrollment data and the financial-aid data that it reported to the Department of Education from 2009 to 2022, statistical analysis shows that black students receive more institutional grant aid from the University of Oklahoma than other students, even when controlling to the extent possible for factors such as family income,” the complaint states.

Without conducting that “sophisticated statistical analysis,” the complaint notes that “the University of Oklahoma’s systematic racial discrimination with respect to financial aid would not have become known.”

Because scholarship funds are limited, giving more aid to a favored group based on race means other students received less financial aid than would occur if financial aid was based on race-neutral factors, the lawsuit notes.

Three OU students are represented in the lawsuit: Kayla Savage, Logan Rhines, and Brayden Johnson.

Savage is a senior who transferred to OU after attending community college. She self-identified as white and non-Hispanic when applying for financial aid from OU and received no financial aid from the university. The complaint notes that an “official from the University of Oklahoma’s Office of Admissions told Plaintiff Savage that financial aid was generally not available to students like her, but would have been if she were African American.”

Rhines is a junior at OU and a first-generation college student. Rhines identified himself as white and non-Hispanic when applying for financial aid from the University of Oklahoma. He received a merit scholarship based on his ACT score and GPA in the amount of $1,000 per semester, but did not receive any other scholarships or financial aid from OU.

Johnson, an undergraduate student in an accelerated master’s degree program at OU, self-identified as white and non-Hispanic when applying for financial aid from the University of Oklahoma. He received a merit scholarship in the amount of $4,000 per semester and two smaller scholarships totaling $1,000 and $1,750 per year, respectively.

The complaint notes all three would have likely received additional financial aid if not for OU’s allegedly shifting greater amounts of aid to other similarly situated students based on race.

In its 2023 opinion in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that race-based admissions processes for college violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The U.S. Supreme Court opinion bluntly stated, “Eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it.”

“Many universities have for too long wrongly concluded that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned, but the color of their skin,” the opinion stated. “This Nation’s constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”

The OU lawsuit argues awarding scholarships and financial aid based on race is equally illegal.

“Racial discrimination in financial aid was illegal before the Supreme Court’s decision in SFFA, and it remains illegal after the Supreme Court’s decision in SFFA,” the complaint states. “That is because ‘[r]acial classifications are simply too pernicious to permit any but the most exact connection between justification and classification.’”    

The lawsuit filed against OU notes that the university’s race-based financial-aid practices “share all the failings of the race-based admissions practices deemed unlawful in SFFA: they rely on imprecise and irrational categories; they assume that members of each racial group are uniform in their need for financial aid and that such aid will have the same effect on each member of the group; and they rest on the demeaning stereotype that black students need financial aid more than non-black students.”

“Moreover, less-restrictive means for easing financial burdens on black students are readily available,” the complaint states. “Simply providing adequate need-based financial aid to all students, regardless of race, would ensure that black students who have been admitted to the University of Oklahoma are not dissuaded from attending by the cost of doing so. There is no legitimate basis for privileging the financial needs of students of one race over the financial needs of students of other races.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Cooper & Kirk, a law firm based in Washington, D.C.

Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs General Counsel Ryan Haynie is local counsel for the lawsuit.

[For more stories about higher education in Oklahoma, visit]

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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