There certainly is something new at OCR

George Will

5/27/2002 12:00:00 AM - George Will
WASHINGTON--Gerald Reynolds is serene about the failed opposition of Senate liberals to the president's appointment of him to head the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. Reynolds, 38, is used to liberals' vehement opposition to African-Americans who escape from liberalism's intellectual plantation and become conservative. Of such vehemence, he cheerfully says, ``I don't have cable. This is my entertainment--life.'' The life trajectory of this New York City policeman's son has taken him from the South Bronx to City College and Boston University law school. He feels fortunate he did not attend ``an Ivy League re-education camp.'' He worked at several conservative think tanks, and as a corporate lawyer in Kansas City--where he has seen the handiwork of the imperial judge who gave himself a blank check and spent nearly $2 billion running the public schools. Test scores did not budge. Do presidential elections matter? Reynolds now has the job held in the Clinton administration by Norma Cantu. Under her, OCR, one of the government's largest civil rights enforcement units, promoted quotas and other dubious remedies for assorted supposed victims of racism, sexism, etc. When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit declared unconstitutional the University of Texas' system of racial preferences in admissions, a decision binding on all colleges and universities within that circuit's three-state jurisdiction, Cantu falsely said it applied only to the University of Texas, and warned that any school failing to maintain or initiate racial preferences was in jeopardy of losing federal funding. She turned Title IX's ban on sex discrimination in federally funded education into a quota system to produce strict proportionality between the percentage of women enrolled in institutions and the percentage of female athletes in the institutions' sports programs. Cantu tried to further extend victimology by warning that any tests that produce a ``disparate impact'' on any government-favored group (racial, ethnic, sexual) are illegal. That was then. This is now: Reynolds is predisposed to changing OCR policy to make it easier for school districts to respond to the ``growing demand from parents for single-sex schools and classes.'' It ``drips with irony,'' he says, that various liberal groups are trying to close The Young Women's Leadership School in East Harlem, seeking to deny a benefit which is sought primarily by young black and Latino girls. ``Black and Hispanic parents,'' he says with asperity, ``are lining up around the block to get their children into single-sex schools. Where are the civil rights groups?'' Of denying parents such a choice, he says: ``We should hesitate before imposing our worldview on other peoples' children. The consequences of getting it wrong should be on the decision-makers.'' ``Racial discrimination,'' Reynolds says, ``is no longer an insurmountable obstacle for black Americans.'' And many ``traditional civil rights groups'' are ``guilty of exchanging their principles,'' especially the ideal of racial neutrality before the law, ``for material comforts,'' and an agenda of racial preferences. With the University of Michigan Law School's system of racial preference having survived a challenge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, but likely to face stricter scrutiny in the Supreme Court, it is good to have at the Education Department's OCR someone who says: ``Racial preference polices are a direct assault on liberalism in that they resurrect the notion that society should distribute benefits and burdens based on one's status.'' Testifying in 1997 against President Clinton's nomination of Bill Lann Lee as assistant attorney general for civil rights, Reynolds criticized Lee's role in suing Los Angeles County for increasing bus fares which had a ``disparate impact'' on minorities and the poor. Lee won. The settlement cost Los Angeles taxpayers more than $1 billion. Reynolds, opposing the use of civil rights laws ``to extract economic concessions,'' said: ``The political process, as long as there are no barriers to participation in the process, should be the main vehicle used to decide how scarce resources are allocated.'' Reynolds remembers when some abandoned tenements adjacent to the Cross-Bronx Expressway were prettified, for the benefit of suburban commuters driving by. Sheets of plywood were placed over empty windows, then curtains, lamps and other signs of normality were painted on the plywood. Racial preferences, Reynolds says, are like the painted plywood--``a cosmetic fix.'' Preferences ``have never been prerequisites for advancement.'' Running the gantlet of liberal critics en route to OCR was easier for Reynolds because he had watched the critics at work in Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearings: ``All their moves were deployed there, and they have nothing new.'' There certainly is something new at OCR.