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Baruch College Black and Hispanic Alumni Association v. Baruch College

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Synopsis

Baruch College Black and Hispanic Alumni Association v. Baruch College is a case that sought to defend the rights of a group of Black and Latino alumni to set up their own alumni association at Baruch College, independent of the traditional alumni association.

Description

Baruch College is a branch of the City University of New York (CUNY) that specializes in preparing students for careers in business. In 1982, a group of Black and Latino alumni sought official recognition for a new alumni association which would address the particular problems of students of color and graduates. The college president refused, saying that an additional specialized organization would be divisive. At other branches of CUNY, however, Black alumni associations co-existed with traditional alumni associations, as is the case at many other colleges and universities.

In response, CCR attorneys filed a federal lawsuit, charging that the college president’s action violated the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of association, the Thirteenth Amendment protection against badges and incidents of bondage (the continuing vestiges of slavery), and the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause.

The district court dismissed the complaint, finding that the Black and Latino students had not been denied any associational rights because they were free to join the predominately white Baruch Alumni Association. In December 1987, the Court of Appeals unanimously reversed the district court’s decision and remanded the case for trial. The court held that if the college’s actions were motivated by racial or political consideration, they were unconstitutional. CCR conducted several months of discovery which revealed, among other things, that the college president denied the group recognition because he was concerned about its advocating on issues of affirmative action and that the university’s vice-president had written a racist memorandum which he entitled, “Off-White Paper on the Black-Hispanic Alumni Matter.”

The dispute, and particularly the “Off-White Paper,” became a central political issue on the campus during the 1989-90 school year. This and other racial issues at the college ultimately led to the resignation of the college president and to a delay in the school’s accreditation because of its insensitivity to racial issues. In April 1990, the college agreed to settle the lawsuit, granting the renamed Black and Latino Alumni Association everything that it had originally sought in the official recognition, use of the college name, office space, and support services. The college also agreed to pay $37,000 in costs and attorneys’ fees.