Columbia University is seeking to change the terms of a 93-year-old trust earmarked for white students from Iowa.
The Lydia C. Roberts Graduate Fellowship stipulates that money be given only to “a person of the Caucasian race” from Iowa.
Roberts left Columbia most of her $509,000 estate when she died in 1920 and created the highly restrictive fellowship. It also stipulates that students must not study law, medicine, dentistry, veterinary surgery or theology. They also must move back to Iowa for a minimum of two years after graduating.
Lucy Drotning, the university’s associate provost, filed an affidavit in Manhattan state Supreme Court last week in support of a legal action initiated by the fund's administrator, JPMorgan Chase Bank, seeking to change the terms of the trust. Columbia hasn't awarded the fellowship since 1997 — but the school said it's impossible to know when exactly Columbia stopped adhering to the race-related terms of the gift.
“Columbia long ago ceased awarding the fellowships in question and does not follow gift conditions that violate anti-discrimination laws,” the university said in a statement May 15. “It should go without saying that a university rightly known for the great diversity of its student body is as offended as anyone by the requirements of these fellowships.”
The court papers ask for the whites-only provision to be thrown out and suggest a modification to the Iowa-only rule.
The original trust is designated for graduate students who were born in Iowa and attended a college or university in Iowa. Columbia suggests in its affidavit that the stipulation could be modified so that fellowships could be awarded either to students who are residents of Iowa or to students who graduated from college there.
According to the affidavit, the current value of the trust is $840,000, and it earned $26,000 in income in 2011.