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Ward Connerly visits Umass

By Isabel Lyman
web posted April 30, 2001

There is nothing black and white about the contentious issues which pit blacks against whites.

Whether the subject involves the merits of racial profiling or the appropriateness of flying the Confederate flag in Mississippi, debates about race are generally messy and unsatisfying. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, as Aretha Franklin advised, in these exchanges is missing.

Ward ConnerlyEnter into the fray a distinguished-looking, black activist named Ward Connerly - a self-described "integrationist" whose great-grandmother was born into slavery. Connerly, president of the American Civil Rights Institute and one-time chair of the California Civil Rights Initiative (Proposition 209), recently spoke at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (the school Insight magazine once dubbed as the most politically correct in the nation) where he debunked the myth that "minority is a synonym for disadvantage."

In his capacity as an unpaid member of the University of California Board of Regents since 1993, Connerly has received international attention for his role in reforming the University's race-based system of preferences in its admission policies - policies he decries as "wrong morally and wrong constitutionally." Since the Board of Regents passed SP-1, the 1995 resolution that ended the use of race as a criterion for admissions, the number of academically-qualified, disadvantaged African-American, Latino, and American Indian students being admitted into the University of California has risen.

Connerly champions an affirmative action system based on class and income but he opposes "race-based affirmative action" programs. "Government has to get out of the business of classifying citizens on the basis of race," he said.

He also revealed a little-reported fact: Race-driven admission policies have favored middle and upper middle class blacks and Latinos, not deserving low-income minority students or disadvantaged white students who live in remote, rural areas. "The programs were benefiting those who needed it least, " he explained.

Predictably, Connerly's efforts to promote a colorblind society have resulted in his being smeared as an Uncle Tom and Jim Crow by liberal activists. During his previous visit to western Massachusetts in 1998, when Connerly came to Amherst College, angry student protestors drowned him out when he attempted to speak.

Interracial Voice reported that Connerly's critics have even suggested he is "fronting for a right-wing agenda designed to roll back civil rights advances of minorities." An odd accusation given the concerns he raised to the audience at the University of Massachusetts. Connerly decried the inequities found in K-12 inner-city public schools, like lack of available Advanced Placement courses, which are an important factor in determining college admissions. (The Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, for example, found that over 143,000 California high school students attend schools that offer only one or no AP courses.) To remedy the situation, Connerly favors expanding need-based outreach programs that benefit low-income students – of all races – in under performing K-12 schools. He also welcomes more maverick minority teachers, like Jaime Escalante, who successfully taught higher math to poor Mexican-American teenagers in a barrio school in southern California.

But this time the message and the messenger weren't shot. Connerly received a surprisingly warm reception at UMass. Catherine Adams, a doctoral student in the Afro-American studies department, told him during the question and answer period, "Thank you for coming in the spirit of healthy debate." Senior Robert Chirwa, who called himself a "liberal," pronounced Connerly's lecture as "very informative." "I received a different impression (of him) than the one the media gives," said Chirwa.

Connerly reciprocated the compliments. He praised the beauty of the University of Massachusetts campus and the attentive crowd of about 100. He told the Daily Collegian, the university's newspaper, "the questions were excellent, the quality of discussion was excellent."

The University of Massachusetts Republican Club, in partnership with Young America's Foundation, sponsored the Connerly lecture. Earlier this month, the ambitious young conservatives, led by Patrick DeCourcy, who also publish The Minuteman, had hosted David Horowitz, the reparations opponent.

Ed Cutting, of the Republican club, thought that the event was a success because members of his group sent a warning to potential miscreants: "We are not afraid of you." The presence of several public safety officers and a commitment from Vice-chancellor for Student Affairs F. Javier Cevallos that boorish behavior would be unwelcome also sent a message. Connerly's ability to conduct his ongoing civil rights crusade, with, well, with civility certainly didn't hurt either.

Izzy Lyman, author of The Homeschooling Revolution, can be reached at ilyman7449@aol.com.

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