National Association of Scholars Cheer CUNY Changes, Decry Affirmative Action During Conference
By Ronald Roach
Although members of the
National Association of Scholars (NAS) consider the elimination of open admissions at the 11 senior colleges in the City University of New York system a victory in view of the group’s conservative mission, speakers and panelists at the group’s ninth annual conference in New York City largely
explored challenges to the NAS agenda.
Meeting in Manhattan last month, the NAS, a 4,300-member organization known for its opposition to race-conscious affirmative action, played host to roughly 300 people at its
“Things have not gotten better. They have gotten worse,” declared Dr. Alan Charles Kors, a University of Pennsylvania history professor and a NAS founding member. Kors, the recipient of the NAS’s Barry R. Gross award at this year’s meeting, stirred conference attendees with a denunciation of politically correct campus administrators and faculty chiefs he believes suppress the free speech and academic freedom of dissenting faculty.
“We now have judicial systems [on campuses] that are kangaroo courts,” Kors said.
Highlighting the theme of “Taking Measure: Higher Education at the Turn of The Century,” the three-day NAS conference examined topics, such as the academic consequences of the consumer-driven university, civic culture, education school reform, academic reform at City University of New York and affirmative action.
NAS defines itself as an “academic organization dedicated to the restoration of intellectual substance, individual merit and academic freedom in the university.”
Though acknowledging mounting challenges to the NAS agenda, NAS members and officials talked positively about achievements and proclaimed their determination to see their organization proceed in the coming years.
“I think we have an opportunity to be a real influence. There are people in higher education policymaking who listen to us,” says Dr. Stephen Balch, president of the NAS. “We have a lot of high-level contacts. And I’m hopeful we’ll have affiliations with people in the Bush administration.”
NAS members were optimistic that the organization founded in 1987, has indirectly spurred the launch of other conservative higher education groups, such as the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, and the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics.
“I think one of the achievements of NAS is that spin-off organizations have emerged. There are more voices out here pushing for academic standards,” says Dr. William Donoghue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and a NAS member.
The group also celebrated “academic reform” in the City University of New York system with officials citing elimination of remediation education in the CUNY senior colleges as a restoration of academic standards. Herman Badillo, chairman of the City University of New York (CUNY) system trustee board, thanked the NAS for its assistance in helping CUNY trustees push through measures ending CUNY’s systemwide open admissions policy and eliminating remediation education in all but CUNY’s community colleges.
AFFIRMATIVE ACTION AGENDA
Speaking to the issue of “individual merit,” Ward Connerly, the controversial University of California regent, urged NAS members to help him fight efforts by California regents to repeal the ban on race-conscious affirmative action. Though a repeal of the ban would represent a symbolic rather than a real policy change since the passage of Proposition 209 in 1996 prohibits race-conscious affirmative action in California, Connerly says it’s crucial to have the ban repeal rejected because its passage might boost the prospects of an anti-Proposition 209 referendum.
Though warning NAS members of the difficulty of the affirmative action fight, Connerly blamed Black Americans for having racial attitudes and perspectives that keep Blacks and Whites divided in the United States. Citing the Black perspective on the O.J. Simpson case and the recent presidential election with Blacks voting 90 percent for Al Gore, Connerly likened the position of Blacks to the member of a family, traveling by car, who consistently has a preference for Taco Bell or Burger King when the rest of the family wants to dine at McDonald’s.
“The difference…begins to weigh on that family,” Connerly noted in his address. “It’s dragging down the spirit of America.”
He also asked conference attendees to support his efforts to establish and get a referendum passed in California to ban the collection and classification of people by their racial and ethnic backgrounds.
“The government has no business in classifying us as such…I ask you to join me in this endeavor,” Connerly said.
Following Connerly’s talk for which he received a standing ovation, a panel of speakers began a discussion, entitled “In the Twilight of Racial Preferences: Diversity and Affirmative Action in Student Admissions.”
Dr. Thomas E. Wood, executive director of the California Association of Scholars, presented research arguing the lack of correlation between educational excellence and campus diversity. Wood, one of the co-authors of Proposition 209, said he’s been examining the link between educational excellence for students and student diversity on campus because affirmative action proponents argue the two are closely related.
“This is an issue that has engaged me for some time,” Wood told the group.
Citing data from major survey studies that included questions about diversity and its impact on student learning and well-being, Wood argued that a researcher using much of the same data and testifying in the recent University of Michigan affirmative action trial ignored the broad conclusions of the studies.
“[The researcher] tries very hard in her testimony to show there is some correlation. But it’s a bogus and fraudulent claim,” Wood said.
Another panelist, Gail Heriot, a professor of law at the University of San Diego, took issue with the percentage admissions plans being adopted by states to boost diversity in their public colleges and universities. In assessing the legality of percentage plans, “my answer is that they don’t comply” with laws and court decisions prohibiting the use of race in admissions, according to Heriot, who co-chaired the Proposition 209 campaign.
“What drives these plans is the desire to admit more Blacks, Hispanics and American Indians without having to deal with race-based solutions,” Heriot said.
Percentage plans, which guarantee admissions to a public university for students graduating in a top percentage group in their high school, have been adopted by California, Texas and Florida.
Taking advantage of the conference setting in the heart of Manhattan, the NAS honored Herman Badillo, the New York City official most credited with leading “academic reform” of the 19-school CUNY system. The NAS presented Badillo, the conference keynote address speaker, and Dr. Benno Schmidt Jr., a former president of Yale University and the current vice-chairman of the CUNY trustee board, awards for their roles in ending open admissions and remediation education in CUNY four-year colleges.
Though he thanked the NAS for its help in the bruising battle over academic standards at CUNY, Badillo bragged a little about his controversial tenure as CUNY trustee chairman. A close ally of New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a Republican, Badillo has held elected and appointed public office positions, including that of U.S. representative, as a Democrat.
“Critics predicted big enrollment declines. Benno [Schmidt] and I were accused of ethnic cleansing…All of those attacks that were used against us turned out to be completely baseless,” Badillo declared, noting that total CUNY freshman enrollment jumped 3.3 percent and transfers into the four-year college rose by 6.5 percent from last year to the current school year.
“[The results] showed how eager students are to embrace higher standards,” he added, noting that CUNY schools are now developing core curriculum requirements.
Badillo told NAS members that he opposed open admissions at CUNY schools when the policy was first adopted in 1969. At the time, Badillo, who was then president of the Bronx borough, said he considered the open admissions policy as a sign that city officials believed minority students were incapable of meeting higher academic standards. Badillo also decried the practice of social promotion in the city’s public elementary and secondary schools, a problem he has tackled from his position as CUNY trustee board chair and education advisor to Mayor Guiliani.
“The mayor and I have been accused of chasing [three previous school superintendents] away. And [our accusers] are right,” Badillo said. “We have to abolish social promotion.”
Dr. Laurie Morrow, a Louisiana State University English professor and a NAS member since its early days, says she appreciates the evolution NAS has made.
“I’m very optimistic about the future of NAS. It seems the organization has shifted its mission to focus more on a reform agenda for higher education. The organization seems to have a broader agenda and it’s not just solely exposing [political correctness] anymore,” Morrow said.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com