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MLK Speaker Discusses Affirmative Action Plans

By Dan McGuire
Editor In Chief

"Principally, affirmative action is designed to stop the preferential treatment and monopolies of a few," said Lezli Baskerville, the keynote speaker at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.

Baskerville serves as general council to the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, a Washington-based organization for the nation's 117 historically and predominantly black colleges and universities. She also held senior congressional staff positions and worked on several national campaigns, including the Reverend Jesse Jackson's 1994 and 1988 presidential bids and the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign.

"We are far from a colorblind society and to the extent that color remains a criterion for consideration in awarding the spoils of the nation, it too must be a consideration in a remedial plan," she said

She noted that white males make up just 35 percent of the population and yet hold commanding percentages of senior management positions (99 percent), senate positions (92 percent), and tenured professorships (80 percent).

Women and minorities held far fewer positions. About 51 percent of the U.S. adult population is female, 12 percent is African American, and four percent is latino. While 42 percent of professors are women, only four percent are African American and five percent are latino. Only eight percent of all engineers are women. Four percent are African American and three percent are latino.

She said that African Americans, Latinos, and American Indians are not even "within hailing distance of equality."

Baskerville says Americans

Baskerville said that uncertainty about the state of the American economy and about job security caused some people to seek a scapegoat in affirmative action. "It was after the collapse of the California defense industry and the loss of numerous jobs associated with that industry that Proposition 209 [which ended government affirmative action programs] surfaced," she said.

"Its architects and the architects of similar initiativesŠ would have the public believe that were it not for people of color and women coming into closed arenas in the laborforce, the plant workers who were laid off during the 1980s and early 90s would have job security," she added.

Baskerville said that the way to combat this was to recast affirmative action. "I submit and the data suggest that the American public does not really oppose affirmative action," she said. "When cast in a proper light and couched in appropriate terms, the public supports affirmative action," she added.

Affirmative action programs aided not only minorities, but also groups like veterans, disabled employees, and the aged, she said. "In short, the majority of Americans are covered by affirmative action laws," she added.

"We want and we need affirmative action for each of these groups that has been denied open access to the nations institutions, programs, and activities," she said. Affirmative action proponents need to "link affirmative action programs as colloquially used with the affirmative action programs for other groups," she said.

That is not being done now, she said. White students recently sued the University of Texas Law School charging that affirmative action programs had forced the school to accept less qualified minority candidates. When "it was revealed that 100 white students with test scores lower than the four white plaintiffs were admitted to the University of texas law schoolŠ no one challenged the policies that accorded [them] preference over four white plaintiffs with higher test scores," she said.

She said that affirmative action occurred even at the highest levels of the government. One example was the practice of presidential candidates selecting running mates from a different region of the country than themselves to garner more votes. "Each one of these decisions was an affirmative action decision. Each was accepted and supported by the American public. Each required some searching beyond the traditional selection pool," she said. "This is affirmative action in action," she added.

Vest names three for awards

"The winners of the Martin Luther King Leadership Award are selected not simply for their personal achievementsŠ but for the effect they have on those around them," said President Charles M. Vest.

Professor of Chemistry Lynda M. Jordan, the visiting Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor, was named a recipient of the award. Vest praised her "passion for inspiring excellence and perserverance in her students" and said that she has "made it a special mission to foster the growth of minorities and women in science."

The second award was given to Tobie F. Weiner, administrative assistant in the Department of Political Science. Vest thanked her for working "to organize and teach subjects on such issues as social justice, the history of the civil rights movement, and community service."

The final award went to Eto S. Otitigbe '99. "His high visibility and charisma have enabled him to produce a number of provocative and successful performing arts events that have made significant contributions to our cultural life," Vest said.