Former Asheville Council member sues city, Asheville City Schools Foundation over scholarships

TUITION TALK: Copland Arnold Rudolph is executive director of Asheville City Schools Foundation. Photo courtesy of Rudolph

A $10,000 scholarship for local Black students is the subject of a lawsuit by a group headed by a former Asheville City Council member.

Carl Mumpower, president of WNC Citizens for Equality Inc. and a former chair of the Buncombe County Republican Party, filed a civil suit Oct. 11. It names the city of Asheville, City Manager Debra Campbell, the scholarship-granting nonprofit Asheville City Schools Foundation and Copland Arnold Rudolph, executive director of ACSF, as defendants.

The City of Asheville Scholarship is described in the ACSF 2021-22 scholarships catalog as being “for Black/African American students who are committed to pursuing a career in education.” The award is $2,500 per year, renewable for four years, “subject to satisfactory performance and progress.” Per the city, the scholarship will be awarded “in perpetuity to Black high school students within Asheville City Schools.”

WNC Citizens for Equality is representing three students who it says would otherwise apply for the scholarship but are ineligible because of their race. Mumpower declined to identify for Xpress the parents of the three students — one senior and two juniors — represented in the lawsuit. “The families have requested confidentiality per the recommendation of legal counsel and for fear of ridicule and retaliation,” he wrote in an email.

The city donated funds for the scholarship from money left over after settling claims from a class-action lawsuit about fees paid by property developers. On April 13, City Council voted to approve the division of nearly $950,000 remaining from that settlement pool between two entities: ACSF and the racial justice group CoThinkk. (The donation to CoThinkk is the subject of a second lawsuit filed by WNC Citizens for Equality Vice President John Miall.)

ACSF used its award to establish The City of Asheville Scholarship, as well as a second scholarship for people of color who are educators or staff at Asheville City Schools and are pursuing additional education or certification. While WNC Citizens for Equality’s lawsuit claims both scholarships “constitute illegal discrmination,” it specifically challenges only the first scholarship, alleging that the defendants are “violating its members’ rights to equal protection and freedom from racial discrimination under the North Carolina Constitution.”

Mumpower’s group partnered with Judicial Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative educational nonprofit, and Legal Insurrection Foundation, a conservative nonprofit, on the lawsuit. “We need all the help we can get and are grateful that these two watchdog groups saw merit in our intention to bring formal action against the city of Asheville in federal court,” he wrote, adding, “This is one of those David versus Goliath moments.”

City Attorney Brad Branham declined to comment, citing Asheville’s policy on active litigation. He notes that no date has yet been set for a court hearing on the matter.

Standing firm

To be eligible for any ACSF scholarship, a senior must complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid and demonstrate financial need. A student must also plan to attend a two- or four-year university, maintain a grade point average of at least 2.75 or 3.0 and support the community through volunteer service.

Eligible seniors do not apply for specific scholarships. “There’s nothing here that says, ‘If you’re white, you can’t apply to this scholarship,’” explains ACSF’s Rudolph. “‘Or if you’re Black, you can’t, or if you’re not a field hockey player, [you can’t].’”

Instead, students complete a single scholarship application, which is shared with a committee of 16 community members, alumni and teachers. Each application is anonymized and read by at least two committee members, with candidates then being interviewed by adults from the community. The committee matches students for the scholarships that it deems are most suitable.

Rudolph says that scholarship donors are empowered to make requirements for award eligibility. For example, a student must have a history of playing field hockey to be eligible for the Bill Dechant Memorial Scholarship. The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville donates the funds for the Mel Hetland Scholarship, which is “awarded to a student who identifies as belonging to the Global Majority (e.g. BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and people of color]),” and preference is given to those who are the first in their family to attend college.

“We stand by our scholarship process 100%,” Rudolph says. In recent years, ACSF has awarded scholarships to as many as 40 students. The first City of Asheville Scholarship was awarded in May 2021 to Jayla Williams to attend N.C. Central University and pursue a degree in education.

“Our organization believes that public education is a vital part of a successful democracy and a key element in ensuring the success of all children,” Rudolph tells Xpress. “We invite anyone who’s truly interested in supporting our Asheville City School students to pursue their dreams to join us in our efforts to redress historical inequities and commit to uplifting our school communities towards justice and opportunities for everyone.”

WNC Citizens v Asheville NC Complaint by Daniel Walton on Scribd

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About Jessica Wakeman
Jessica Wakeman is an Asheville-based reporter for Mountain Xpress. She has been published in Rolling Stone, Glamour, New York magazine's The Cut, Bustle and many other publications. She was raised in Connecticut and holds a Bachelor's degree in journalism from New York University. Follow me @jessicawakeman

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3 thoughts on “Former Asheville Council member sues city, Asheville City Schools Foundation over scholarships

  1. Voirdire

    Here’s hoping Mumpower’s “suit” falls where is belongs …under the frivolous lawsuit category -as per another one of our now notorious denizen’s has recently… the delusional Trumper, Sidney Powell- and he [Mumpower] is held liable for all litigation fees incurred by the city for this lame stunt. Btw, who in their right mind (…surely there’s a few left amongst us) doesn’t smell the dog whistle racism of this “lawsuit”from a mile off? Really very sad.

    • Tom Jolly

      Education has mostly merit based. Why would you want to change it? There are plenty of black people that merit a higher education. If that’s not enough for you maybe you should help them learn so that they merit a higher education? You can’t just give it to someone who doesn’t have enough education to succeed.

  2. octobia

    Even Mumpower should be ashamed! Surely he has enough other causes to put his deranged interest to. Hey Carl, they just bulldozed another homeless tent city in our fair Asheville. Y’know most of the homeless are white, right? Don’t you care about their rights and privileges, such as they are?

    Here’s another idea for you, Carl. Spend some time running the numbers — how many scholarship dollars black students were excluded from earning because of race. Then pontificate about that. But, as usual, all Carl Mumpower is interested in is getting his name in the paper and generated right-wing outrage that one of our privileges might be lessened a smidge. Also as usual, Carl will accomplish nothing except to waste resources that could be better utilized.

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