Surveying the Combat Zone
In 1984, the birth year of Black Issues In Higher Education, incumbent President Ronald Reagan scored a landslide victory over Democratic challenger Walter Mondale. The victory signaled the high mark of conservative political ascendance in the United States. Throughout Reagan’s eight-year tenure, conservative policymakers took aim and fired at policies designed to widen access to higher education, especially for minorities. The reduction in student grant programs, a decline in non-defense federal support of higher education, and the appointment of conservatives as senior policy officials and judges created a chilling climate for higher education’s fledgling commitment to diversity and access.
During the 1980s, conservatives declared war on affirmative action, the chief mechanism that higher education institutions adopted in the 1960s and 1970s to remedy past discrimination and ensure diversity in student, faculty, and administrative ranks.
Fifteen years later, the war continues and affirmative action remains one of the biggest stories in higher education.
While the mid-1980s represented a time of outright hostility to affirmative action and the slashing of social investment by the government, a growing sense of the rapid demographic changes in this country and economic anxiety reawakened Americans’ desire for compassionate leadership and government-led stewardship.
That reawakening played a decisive factor in President Bill Clinton’s victory over former President George Bush. Yet, even with the higher education access picture brightening considerably with Clinton’s victory, the legacy of the Reagan/Bush years has loomed large over the 1990s. The federal judiciary, heavily populated with Reagan/Bush appointees, has narrowed the use and scope of affirmative action programs through their rulings — whether in higher education or in business.
Conservative activists have eagerly brought lawsuits against colleges and universities, challenging race-conscious affirmative action programs in numerous states. Ironically, the desegregation of southern public university systems, a movement begun in the 1960s, still proceeds, and schools in this region often have been attacked by conservatives for their affirmative action policies.
Clinton’s 1995 speech defending affirmative action before the American people represented a watershed event for its continuation. Had he stated opposition to or voiced limited support for affirmative action, race-conscious admission and employment policies might have been swept away by referendums and congressional action.
Nevertheless, in the past three years, voter referendums in California, Houston, and Washington state on affirmative action have provided a new and challenging twist to the ongoing saga. How long race-conscious affirmative action policies remain in place has begun to depend upon direct voter perception of the fairness of affirmative action rather than solely on judicial and congressional attitudes.
While all of this activity has occurred at the national and state level, it triggered a symbiotic regressive conservative movement in on-campus policies as well.
One such trend has been the movement away from programs directly addressing the needs of African American students to those targeting all students. Campuses which in the mid-1980s had Black student affairs offices — many of which included remediation components — later transformed them into minority student affairs programs — some of which embraced outcomes-based retention models. In recent years, the trend has been toward retention models that avoid targeting students on the basis of race altogether.
Another trend fueled by the nation’s political conservatism was the movement to malign all programs designed to help under-represented groups with the unflattering label of political correctness. Such rhetoric set the stage for situations like the overtly racist Dartmouth Review articles, debates over campus speech codes, and the emergence of scholarship questioning multiculturalism. Groups like the National Academy of Scholars were among the leaders of the intellectual backlash against ethnic studies, women’s studies, and all things outside of the mainstream.
Another on-campus development born out of the conservative movement is the struggle over post-tenure review. This movement opened the door to attacks on tenure and fueled a renewed debate over academic freedom, a pillar of the academy which had served as a protective shield for many nontraditional scholars whose scholarship challenged the mainstream during the ’60s and ’70s.
Preferences for student loans over grants, and the resurgence of questions about whether historically Black and minority-serving institutions were really needed are just a few of the other developments occurring during this 15-year period that have affected minority access and can be traced back to the nation’s political conservatism.
The following lists examine some of the legal and legislative developments, the elected officials, the public appointees, and the policy professionals, advocates, and lobbyists who have had an impact on higher education access since 1984. n
1) U.S. Rep. William Clay (D-Mo.)
is the ranking minority member on the House Education and Workforce Committee. His retirement in 2000 will mean a great loss for Blacks and other minorities in higher education.
2) U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) has not served long in Congress, but has already made a mark as the author of the GEAR-UP bill. The bill was incorporated in the 1998 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.
3) Former U.S. Rep. Augustus Hawkins (D-Calif.) served many years on the House Education and Labor Committee where he chaired the committee and led the enactment of Historically Black Colleges and Universities Act.
4) U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas), in 1998, had pushed a proposal to give Hispanic institutions a separate pool of funds within Title III of the Higher Education Act, a measure opposed by Black lawmakers and policy professionals. After some negotiations, a House subcommittee approved an arrangement that would move the provisions for Hispanic-serving institutions from Title III to another section of the Higher Education Act. The compromise gave Hispanic institutions access to additional funds, yet allowed Title III to remain intact.
5) U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) has championed higher education access and opportunity for native Hawaiians and other Pacific islanders. Along with U.S. Senator Ben “Nighthorse” Campbell (R-Colo.), Inouye has helped expand higher education opportunities for Native Americans.
6) Washington state Governor Gary Locke’s (D) tenure as the first Asian American chief executive of a mainland U.S. state has coincided with passage of I-200 anti-affirmative action referendum.
7) Former Texas Attorney General Dan Morales (D) had responsibility for enforcing the Hopwood decision. His strict interpretation of the case, which led to minority student enrollment drops in Texas public institutions, angered minorities.
8) Former U.S. Sen. Carol Mosely-Braun (D-Ill.) emerged as a strong advocate for historically Black institutions and higher education access programs during her term in the Senate.
9) U.S. Rep. Major Owens (D-N.Y.) has been a staunch higher education advocate for the poor and minorities. He played an important role in getting Title III amended to include Part B funding for historically Black institutions.
10) Maryland state Del. Howard P. Rawlings (D-Baltimore) chairs the Maryland House of Delegates Committee on Appropriations and sits on national boards and commissions that advocate progressive higher education change.
11) Former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) lobbied hard for the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Act in mid-1980s, persuading Republicans, such as Strom Thurmond, and conservative southern Democrats to support the legislation.
12) Former U.S. Sen. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio) served on the House Appropriations Committee, making sure minority-serving institutions got the funding authorized in the federal budget.
13) U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) is one of the plaintiffs in the long-running Ayers v. Fordice higher education desegregation case.
14) Former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder (D)
The nation’s first Black governor since Reconstruction saw education funding cut due to a severe recession. However, he facilitated greater cooperation between K-12 systems and the state’s public colleges. Articulation agreements between two- and four-year institutions were launched, and funding for student financial aid saw increases.
15) Former California Gov. Pete Wilson (R) appointed Ward Connerly to California’s Board of Regents, and campaigned to pass Proposition 209.
15 Influential State/Federal appointees
The following are representative of state and federal appointees who have impacted equity in higher education during the past 15 years.
1) Sarita E. Brown, executive director, White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans
Formerly the assistant dean of academic affairs at American University, Brown has taken on a portfolio of work that includes both a K-12 and higher education focus.
2) Norma Cantú, assistant secretary for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education
Former Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund attorney hasn’t shied away from intervening in California and Texas over their anti-affirmative action bans in higher education.
3) Ward Connerly, member, California Board of Regents
Controversial Black Republican appointee led regents to pass affirmative action ban and later became a central figure in statewide Proposition 209 campaign as chairman of the California Civil Rights Initiative. Ward has taken anti-affirmative action campaign nationally.
4) Christopher Edley Jr., former adviser to President Clinton
Harvard Law School professor helped shape President Bill Clinton’s 1995 highly regarded “Mend It, Don’t End It” speech defending affirmative action. He also co-authored the affirmative action review of federal programs that year.
5) Fred Gainous, chancellor, Alabama State College System
Gainous, appointed chancellor in March 1998, is an African American pioneer in the position.
6) Leonard L. Haynes III/ Carolynn Reid-Wallace, former assistant secretaries of Education for higher education, Bush administration
Haynes and Reid-Wallace, both African Americans, had responsibility in the Bush Education Department for higher education matters. Reid-Wallace succeeded Haynes in the position.
7) Adam Herbert, chancellor, University of Florida System
As the first Black chancellor of the University of Florida System, Herbert is not afraid to ruffle feathers as he shakes up the system to improve it. Officials at historically Black Florida A&M are wary of him.
8) Catherine LeBlanc, executive director, White House Initiative on HBCUs
This administrator with a business background has helped coordinate federal agency outreach to HBCUs during the time of the federal government’s largest flow of federal dollars to historically Black institutions.
9) William Bradford Reynolds, former assistant secretary for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Justice, Reagan administration
Controversial Reynolds reversed the course on enforcement of civil rights laws, including that of higher education desegregation cases.
10) Richard Riley, U.S. Secretary of Education
South Carolina Democrat and former governor gets high marks for integrity and commitment to diversity and access. He has appointed minorities to key senior positions, such as chief of staff and general counsel.
11) Benjamin Ruffin, chairman, University of North Carolina Board of Governors
Black business executive and former political aide oversees public university system with the largest number of historically Black institutions.
12) David Satcher, M.D., U.S. Surgeon General
Hard-working former president of Meharry Medical School has not forgotten his roots on affordable healthcare access and medical education issues.
13) Louis Sullivan, M.D., former secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Bush administration
Founder and current president of the Morehouse School of Medicine was the first Black to head HHS in a Republican administration.
14) Luther S. Williams, assistant director of Education and Human Resources, National Science Foundation
Former Atlanta University president has looked out for minority-serving institutions while managing NSF’s education, training, faculty development, and scholarship programs. NSF’s budget for education and human resources was $633 million in 1998.
15. Judith Winston, general counsel at U.S. Department of Education and former executive director of the President’s Advisory Commission on Race Relations
Winston managed controversial and heavily-criticized commission with integrity and dignity.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com