Dear Donnas, Dons, and Prima Donnas (mark me down for redundancy):

Two bake-salers tossed a pie in the face of Affirmative Action.  (They must have been drunken bake-salers.)  Finding yourselves out-manned, you 34 strong had a panic attack.  Your brief “In Support of Affirmative Action” (Argus, Nov. 12), decrying race-baiters (would that be a smearword for whistle-blowers?), declaimed that the half-baked salers had “misconstrued” Admissions’ Affirmative Action policy: Why, it’s right there in black and white in Wes’s Statement of Nondiscrimination.  It is?  Your reading (or is it your “narrative”?) and mine must differ.

And YOU don’t get to define Affirmative Action.  Who does?  The crazy aunt in your attic.  Your brief neglected to mention its name – a telling omission constituting contempt of (sshhhhh! can’t name it).  Case closed.  But I’m not finished teaching you Herculeses of learning – grown plump and lazy on a regime comprised of lightweight teaching loads (I’d make them even lighter); courses designed to meet YOUR special needs; and students blinded by “theory” and hobbled by stances halt and lame (impairments given a pass by the lumpen professors who share them) – a lesson.

Let’s get down to cases.  The term “affirmative action” was inaugurated in 1961 (not 1964, as your brief had incorrectly stated), in an Executive Order (See Thomas Sowell, “Affirmative Action Around the World,” p. 4) which “called for ‘affirmative action to ensure that the applicants are employed…without regard to race, color, creed, or national origin.’  In short, there were to be no preferences or quotas at all…”  The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 codified the Executive Order.  “This first in a series,” Sowell writes “extending over several administrations, was clearly NOT calling for group preferences or quotas.  On the contrary, it was calling upon employers to hire and promote WITHOUT REGARD to group membership…” (p. 124).

Alas, in the following decades, Affirmative Action “evolved,” thanks to a rash of High Court rulings.  The Griggs decision (1971) “…was not the only example of courts reading the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to mean precisely what the Act and its legislative history had clearly said that it did NOT mean” (Sowell, pp. 126-7); and Justice Brennan, writing for the majority in the Weber decision (1979), rejected “a literal interpretation of these words” of the landmark Act.  His rejection (Sowell, pp. 127-8) “…ignored both the language and the legislative history of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which had rejected discrimination against anyone of any color, as well as rejecting ideas of correcting racial ‘imbalances.’  Brennan’s complete evasion of the plain words of the statute was described in a dissenting opinion as reminiscent of the great escapes of Houdini.  The Weber case became both a legal landmark and a political model for evasions of the law by citing such rationales as remedial action or ‘diversity.’”

Back in the day, Diversity University’s Malcolm X House had been the incarnation of Segregation’s Second Coming until it was outed and cajoled, “for appearances’ sake,” to set aside a few rooms for the pale-faced.  Now, thanks to Admissions, Alma Mater has again been caught with her pants down, and outed.

Those outings are symptomatic of Alma Mater’s penchant for inviting a pinch here and a pinch there, by pitching her tent in opposing camps: to the outed camp she’s able to say, “Believe what we do, not what we say (our Statement of Nondiscrimination is for consumption by the Great Unwashed”).  And, to the Great Unwashed camp, which believes in merit-based, not color-coded, admissions, she’s able to say, “Believe what we say, not what we do.  Racial preferences in Admissions?  Our Statement has told you a thousand times no!”  Caught in bed with another woman, the husband tells his wife she’s misconstrued: “Honey, who you gonna believe?  Me?  Or your lyin’ eyes?”  Ah, the power of words!

Let’s examine a couple.  You esteem as beneath contempt the allegation that Wes has admissions “quotas.”  Your attitude is a sheer but not unshared one.  Sowell (p. 154): “How do Bowen and Bok (the authors of ‘The Shape of the River’) answer such critics of preferential admissions policies?  First of all, ‘The Shape of the River’ redefines preferences and quotas as ‘race-sensitive admissions,’ and Bowen and Bok say that they are against ‘quotas’ – which apparently means that they are against the word ‘quotas,’ since they make the usual arguments for numerical representation….”  Did you professional quoters dog-ear the let’s-not-call-them-quotas page?

Your brief, citing numerous federal Acts, refers to “qualified applicants” for employment.  But the whistle-blowers’ casus belli was “qualified applicants” for admissions.  Was your misdirection play an effort to bury the body (Admissions’ corpus of incriminating data) under a pile of titles of federal Acts – all having to do with employment, none having to do with High Court rulings, much less with its rulings on Affirmative Action, much less with its rulings on Affirmative Action in admissions?  To that end, apparently, you opted to frog-march the Argus’ captive readers through the jungles of Legislatia – that forced march having as little to do with the facts on the ground (the cordoned-off corpus) as “scoring” at Wes has to do with sports.

Your brief is a run of feckless head fakes, a shovel-ready undertaking.  Spare us your prayers for a Second Coming.

Benjamin is a member of the class of 1957.

  • Olde Yankee

    Writer Benjamin is correct in saying that Executive Order 10925 was issued by President Kennedy on March 6, 1961, ordering that government contractors “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.”

    But the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not codify Affirmative Action. Instead, President Johnson’s Executive Order 11246 of September 24, 1965 superceded the prior order. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), under the Department of Labor, monitors this requirement for all federal contractors, and has developed regulations to which these contractors must adhere. For federal contractors employing more than 50 people and having federal contracts totaling more than $50,000, compliance with these regulations includes disseminating and enforcing a nondiscrimination policy, establishing a written affirmative action plan and placement goals for women and minorities, and implementing action-oriented programs for accomplishing these goals.

    Perhaps Writer Benjamin prefers a society like that into which his class of 1957 graduated, where employers were free to hire whomever they wanted, despite the massive inequalities for those who did not resemble his classmates.

  • Ron Medley `73

    It’s ironic that writer Benjamin would seek to draw a distinction between federal civil rights legislation in employment (presumably, an example of “good” affirmative action) and the line of Supreme Court decisions having as their genesis the case of Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education (1954), presumably examples of “bad” affirmative action.

    Occupants of the Executive Branch and their legislative allies were more than happy to leave enforcement of school de-segregation to the courts by the time Richard Nixon reached the White House. The North’s appetite for integration as a specific policy”good” was exhausted and was best filed away under his domestic policy advisor (and Wesleyan Fellow), Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s proscription: benign neglect.

    If, what Writer Benjamin seems to impy is true, that there is no federal civil rights codification of the Brown decision, he can scarcely blame supporters of affirmative action for that.