Some affirmative action and diversity program critics are cheering President Barack Obama’s election because they believe his success dramatically undermines the argument that discrimination remains a significant barrier for minorities in American life. Ward Connerly Jr., arguably the most visible anti-affirmative action activist in the United States, has proclaimed that Obama’s victory, making the Illinois senator the first African- American elected U.S. president, reinforces color-blindness as a rationale for eliminating race-conscious affirmative action.
“Although I did not vote for him, I think he earned the election by the rules of merit. He ran the best campaign … The election of Obama to be our president reconfirms that the American people are ready for” color-blind policies that prohibit race-conscious affirmative action, Connerly told a group of 200 conservative scholars at the National Association of Scholars (NAS) national conference last month.
Vowing to keep the fight going to eliminate policies that allow race to have a role in public life, Connerly declared that state ballot initiatives still represent the best means to overturn race-conscious affirmative action, even though such efforts saw more setbacks than success this past election season. While voters in Nebraska approved a ban on race-based affirmative action at the polls, Coloradoans voted down a similar ban this past November. Efforts led by Connerly to get affirmative action considered on state ballots in Arizona, Missouri and Oklahoma failed to qualify as ballot initiatives in 2008.
That Connerly’s advocacy for eliminating raceconscious affirmative action in higher education finds deep and abiding support among groups, such as NAS, practically ensures colleges and universities should expect new challenges to their pro-diversity programs in the coming years. During its recent conference, NAS officials and speakers, noting Obama’s election, took stock of their past opposition to race-conscious affirmative action and expressed interest in combating it anew.
Launched in 1987 to help scholars combat the excesses of multiculturalism and help arrest the erosion of the traditional liberal arts curriculum, the 4,000-member NAS would find a great deal of its reputation established by the organization participating in anti-affirmative-action campaigns and opposing what NAS members describe as racialist practices in colleges and universities. In the 1990s, some of its members launched efforts that led to passage of Proposition 209, a ballot measure that banned raceand gender-conscious affirmative action in California.
Dr. Peter Wood, the NAS president, says it’s inevitable that race-conscious affirmative action in higher education will be eliminated. It may take awhile because the “American public generally is going to have moved beyond race when colleges and universities” continue to worry about it, according to Wood, the author of Diversity: The Invention of A Concept.
Dr. Abigail Thernstrom, a senior scholar at the Manhattan Institute, says Obama’s election increases the likelihood that race-conscious affirmative action and racialist practices, such as ethnic group graduation ceremonies and ethnic- themed dormitories, will be eliminated.
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