This week marks the beginning of the end of the racial spoils system that has come to symbolize affirmative action in higher education, as well as state contracting and employment. Ward Connerly, chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute and the father of the California Civil Rights Initiative, which abolished state-sponsored racial preferences in California more than a decade ago, has launched a new effort to place similar initiatives on the ballot in 2008 in several states, including Colorado, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arizona.
I was proud to be by his side in Denver on Monday to announce the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative along with another Colorado native and familiar figure in the fight against racial and gender preferences, Valery Pech Orr, whose suit against federal minority set-asides led to the landmark Supreme Court decision in Adarand v. Pena. For me especially, this day has been a long time coming.
It has been nearly four decades since I became involved with affirmative action in Colorado. When I entered the University of Colorado as a freshman in the fall of 1965, there were few black or Hispanic students enrolled. During my five years as an undergraduate and graduate student at CU, first at the Denver campus and then in Boulder, I encountered only one other Hispanic in any of my classes and perhaps one or two blacks.
That didn't seem right to me. So, I joined with a group of other students to persuade the university to aggressively recruit more minority students and set up tutoring programs and summer sessions of remedial courses to assist those who lacked the skills to compete effectively. The Educational Opportunity Program started out with great promise -- it was exactly what was intended by affirmative action: to cast a wider net and provide the skills necessary to compete on an equal footing.
But it soon transmogrified into a program that lowered standards and radicalized students in the process. The university not only admitted students whose academic preparation made it nearly impossible for them to succeed, but it permitted many to remain in school despite failing grades. Worse, the program's organizers encouraged students to take largely segregated ethnic studies courses, whose primary purpose was to forge ethnic solidarity and reinforce students' feelings that they were victims of a racist society bent on their destruction.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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