PHILADELPHIA -- Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University garnered national attention recently by requiring students with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above to take a fitness course prior to graduating in May.

About 80 Lincoln seniors need to take the class in order to graduate this spring because they did not meet the school’s fitness requirement.

Some members of the university’s staff have suggested the requirement be eliminated. They reportedly will discuss it at a Dec. 4 faculty meeting, the school’s student newspaper reported.

Designed to educate students at the historically black university on the dangers of obesity, the course has become controversial, both on and off campus.

“I’m not surprised,” Dr. James L. DeBoy, chair of Lincoln’s Health, Physical Education and Recreation department, told student reporters. “I told the faculty when we passed this (BMI standard) four years ago that this is new territory. We’re going to get criticized. We would be perceived as mean spirited, discriminating and evil. That goes with the territory. The question is, are we strong enough to stand tall and do what we have to do?”

The requirement began as a mandate that all students entering the school in the fall of 2006 must have their BMIs checked. Those considered obese were required to take a class called “Fitness for Life” that meets three times per week.

The course covers physical activities, such as walking, aerobics and weight training, in addition to topics, such as nutrition and stress. Although students aren’t required to lose weight or lower their BMI, they are required to pass the class.

Some students are speaking out against the requirement, saying the school did not communicate the requirements to them in a timely fashion. Critics also claim the mandate is discriminatory toward obese people.