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New ban on affirmative action forces Nebraska schools to scour programs.

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- At Southeast Community College, Jose J. Soto may have to change his title: vice president of affirmative action.

Nebraska's educational institutions, cities and counties are beginning to scour their programs to see if they violate a ban on race- and gender-based affirmative action voters approved last month.

The ban might force Southeast to cease or change its partnership with a national association that promotes equity for women in community colleges, Soto said. And a program designed to boost female enrollment in technology classes may have to be dropped.

At the University of Nebraska, administrators are expected to review a wide range of programs and policies aimed at boosting diversity--including a math camp for high school girls, Native American Day, the recruitment of foreign students and a law college policy that uses race as a factor in deciding which students to admit.

"We know we need to look at programs where race or gender or national origin are involved," university President J.B. Milliken said.

The Nebraska constitutional amendment approved by state voters prohibits public agencies from giving preferential treatment on the basis of race, sex or ethnicity when hiring and performing such tasks as awarding contracts and granting scholarships. The ban passed with almost 58 percent of the vote. A similar measure in Colorado was defeated.

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The League of Nebraska Municipalities is reviewing how the amendment might affect hundreds of local governments across the state, Executive Director Lynn Rex said. Some federal grants, such as those for affordable housing, are tied to affirmative action, she said.

"There's the potential for large consequences that we just don't know yet," Rex said.

Milliken and other university officials are concerned that Nebraska's status as one of a handful of states to pass an affirmative action ban could project a cold image, hindering recruitment efforts. Similar measures were previously approved in California, Michigan and Washington state.

"It's important that we, while complying with the law, make every effort to provide broad access to the University of Nebraska," he said.

Like Milliken, Soto feels the amendment won't dismantle all efforts to increase diversity.

"Affirmative action is something often done on the front end of the hiring process to make sure you have a job description that doesn't limit candidates, and that you have a recruitment process," Soto said. "Ninety percent of affirmative action has nothing to do with ... using race or gender to make a hiring decision. It's to provide open access to opportunities."

Ward Connerly, the black businessman and former University of California regent who orchestrated the effort to ban affirmative action in Nebraska, said the affirmative action ban could give momentum to his state-by-state campaign against using such preferences.

But the Election Day victory for Connerly and his supporters in Nebraska is being challenged.

Opponents of the ban have filed a lawsuit arguing that petition signatures needed to put the issue on the ballot were gathered using a "pattern of fraud and illegality." If successful, the lawsuit could invalidate the referendum results.
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Title Annotation:around the nation
Publication:Community College Week
Date:Dec 1, 2008
Words:504
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