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The University of Minnesota revised its criteria for a summer research program amid complaints from some conservatives who argued the program discriminated against white students.

The Multicultural Summer Research Opportunities Program was designed to give stipends to about 16 students of color each year so they could participate in faculty research projects, with the goal of encouraging them to consider enrolling in graduate school.

The program traces to the 1980s and was developed "in part to address the underrepresentation of students of color at the graduate or professional level, which was considered a national issue," the U's Office of Undergraduate Education said in a statement.

Earlier this month, a nonprofit that has launched other discrimination claims across the country asked federal officials to examine the U program. And Minnesota's four Republican members of Congress made a similar request in a letter last week, arguing: "As a taxpayer-funded university, this is nothing short of unacceptable."

The complaints come at a time when universities across the country are facing enrollment declines and find themselves trying to recruit from a pool of potential students that is becoming both smaller and more racially and ethnically diverse, due in part to changes in birth rates.

According to university data, the U enrolled 12,189 graduate students last fall, nearly 53% of whom identified as white and nearly 20% of whom identified as a person of color. Most of the remaining students are listed as U.S. nonresidents, without a more specific racial breakdown.

The research program lasts about 10 weeks and provides students with a $6,000 stipend to cover "personal and research expenses." Students participate in about 35 hours of research each week and attend weekly seminars focused on skill development and graduate school preparation, among other topics.

In mid-May, the Equal Protection Project, affiliated with a Rhode Island-based nonprofit called the Legal Insurrection Foundation, sent a complaint to the federal Department of Education, arguing that the program inappropriately discriminated against white students. The project has filed similar complaints elsewhere across the country.

On May 24, the U's Office of Undergraduate Education issued a statement saying it was "aware of concerns" about the program and had made some changes.

It "looked carefully at the criteria for this program and eliminated reference to any specific populations of students," updated language on its website and changed the program name to Pathways to Graduate School: Summer Research Program.

Two days later, the four Republican members of Minnesota's congressional delegation — Brad Finstad, Tom Emmer, Michelle Fischbach and Pete Stauber, all of whom are white — sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education asking it to review the program. Also signing the letter was U.S. Rep. Burgess Owens, a Republican from Utah, who is Black.

The lawmakers wrote that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin.

"The University's decision to offer this program only to Students of Color and Native Americans was in clear violation of this law and others that were put in place to protect all students from this form of discrimination," the group wrote. "Discrimination under the guise of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is still discrimination, and it is reprehensible that the University of Minnesota has fostered this type of learning environment."

The U.S. Department of Education acknowledged Tuesday that it had received the letter and said "it is being reviewed." The department did not provide any additional details on the status of that review.

Staff writer Hunter Woodall contributed to this report.