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Confirm Gerald Reynolds

By W. James Antle III
web posted August 6, 2001

One would think that a person with a record demonstrating commitment to racial equality and the principle of non-discrimination would be an excellent candidate for a position enforcing equal educational opportunity. Those who view such positions as occasions for promoting quotas, double standards and social engineering unfortunately disagree.

Sen. Ted Kennedy

Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) has signaled that he will oppose the nomination of Gerald Reynolds to be assistant secretary of education for the Office of Civil Rights. Kennedy, who is now chairman of the Senate Labor and Education Committee, has expressed "serious concerns" about Reynolds because "many civil rights groups and education groups have raised questions about his serious lack of education policy experience, as well as his views on affirmative action." In other words, Reynolds has no experience implementing harebrained schemes in stagnant government schools and no inclination to lower standards or pigeonhole people by race. This Sen. Kennedy finds unacceptable, given his own decades of "education policy experience" which has translated into billions of dollars of expenditures in exchange for more mediocrity.

Kennedy is not alone in his criticism of Reynolds, former president of the Center for New Black Leadership. William Taylor of the liberal Leadership Conference on Civil Rights says that the choice of Reynolds as head of the Office of Civil Rights proves that President Bush "uses the Education Department as a dumping ground for ideological zealots." What is so zealous about Gerald Reynolds that he is so described by left-wing ideological zealots?

Reynolds, the chief regulatory counsel at Kansas City Power and Light Co., has worked in the public policy arena on behalf of the idea that government should not grant benefits or assign penalties solely on the basis of race. His advocacy of color-blind government policies that treat individuals equally rather than treat them as indistinguishable members of warring differently pigmented tribes is what has led to his conflict with con artists who benefit from the burgeoning "diversity" racket. This is the true nature of his opposition -- in their view an independent black man who feels free to reject liberal orthodoxy need not apply.

Reynolds has worked to counter the predictable big-government solutions of the traditional civil rights activists through the Center for New Black Leadership, which promotes the free market, equal opportunity, entrepreneurship and community-based problem solving. He has also labored against those who believe the only way to advance minorities is through double standards, quotas and set-asides through his association with another think tank, the Center for Equal Opportunity. Neither organization believes that government should pick winners and losers based on skin color, nor do they believe black Americans benefit from racial preferences. In education, the primary result of racial preferences has been to put minorities in schools for which they were academically unprepared.

This has increased the black and Hispanic dropout rates while commensurately decreasing their retention and graduation rates at many colleges and universities. The under-performing public school systems these Americans graduated from may benefit from this. The "diversity" bureaucrats who can use these students in their bean-counting to prove a multicultural campus also benefit. The only people hurt by this arrangement are the people who are supposed to benefit from it.

Racial preferences discriminate against some people. They harm their intended beneficiaries by attempting to give them opportunity through lower standards rather than helping them improve their skills. And they illegitimately cast doubt on the achievements of others whose accomplishments are thought to be the product of preferential treatment. There is little evidence, as Thomas Sowell has demonstrated in his comprehensive international studies on such practices, that these policies ever lead to a community's advancement. Reynolds should not be penalized for recognizing these realities, even if self-appointed community leaders and professional educrats refuse to do so.

Constitutionally, the Department of Education should not exist. Little proof can be cited that its existence has led to educational advances in this country. But if it is going to continue to exist in the near term, it is better that it be staffed by competent people with credible ideas. Positive reform has been attempted through this position in previous Republican administrations, which has been held by other distinguished black conservatives including Clarence Thomas and Michael Williams. Of course, they too both came under fire for daring to think for themselves. It is interesting how John Ashcroft's motives in opposing one black judicial nominee (compared to the 26 out of 28 he had supported while in the Senate) are scrutinized for racial bias but black conservatives can be opposed by the likes of Teddy Kennedy with impunity.

It can hardly be said that Reynolds opposes civil rights protections for minority children. Not only does he favor aggressively enforcing anti-discrimination laws, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he favors affirmative action as it existed before the implementation of quotas during the Nixon administration -- akin to the president's call for "affirmative access." Indeed, Reynolds argued in a 1997 piece that getting rid of preferences would "return us to affirmative action as it was first proposed in the late 1960s- aggressive and affirmative outreach to increase the participation of minorities in education settings and the workplace. Racial preferences and set-asides, which amount to nothing more than quotas, are exacerbating racial tension in America and... discouraging rather than promoting the achievement of minorities... Equality of opportunity is what black America demands, not the false achievement of mandated equality of outcome."

Furthermore, Reynolds supports the school choice polls show more than 60 percent of black parents favor. This is consistent with his view, quoted by syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin, that "government should give people skills, not give them contracts." Vouchers, opportunity scholarships and other mechanisms for getting minority children out of some of the nation's worst government schools will present them with tools for the future. His critics are more concerned with protecting school systems than the children trapped in them.

The fact of the matter is that Gerald Reynolds is eminently qualified for this position and would bring common sense and color-blindness to the Office of Civil Rights. There could hardly be a better criterion for confirming him. ESR

W. James Antle III is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right and can be reached at

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