The most hated man on America's college campuses is George W. Bush. On many campuses, Ward Connerly ranks a close second.
Connerly, who is black, is founder and chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute. In March 1993, he was appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson to the University of California Board of Regents for a 12-year term. He chaired the Proposition 209 campaign in California; the proposition, which banned the use of race in government employment, education and contracting, passed by an overwhelming majority in November 1996. He designed Proposition 54, the Racial Privacy Initiative, which would have banned the state of California from gathering racial information on official forms. He also authored the recently deceased SP-1 and SP-2 policies, which barred the UC system from utilizing affirmative action.
All of this makes Connerly persona non grata on campus. His newest project: bringing a Prop. 209-like initiative to Michigan.
"I certainly don't hold myself out as any expert on problems with the black community, or white community, or any other community," Connerly explained in an interview with me Nov. 21. "But there is no reason that a student in the state of California, or in the country for that matter, who wants to get an education, can't get it. We're beating the door down to bring in black students. There's no overt discrimination. ... I think that a lot of those problems are self-imposed."
Connerly is used to tenacious and vicious opposition. But now, the opposition has kicked into high gear, led by the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action and Integration and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN). This communist-involved, ultra-left-wing group has targeted Connerly, calling him "the most notorious and fanatical right-wing opponent of civil rights in California." BAMN accuses him of using his position as UC regent to "spearhead a series of statewide and national attacks on civil rights and integration."
BAMN is calling for a boycott of Coors Beer, since Joseph Coors personally gave money to Connerly's Prop. 54 campaign. It's also calling for Connerly's resignation (despite the fact that Connerly's term is up in two years, and he told me that he will absolutely refuse to seek reappointment).
Why the escalation? First, Connerly's Michigan efforts are striking fear into the hearts of BAMN leaders. Second, with Gov. Schwarzenegger's election in California in early November, right-leaning members of the Board of Regents stand to gain ground. Connerly elaborates: "Gov. Davis was a very assertive governor who sought to influence who would be the chair of the Board, who would be the vice-chair. ... Gov. Davis' departure radically changes that circumstance. Wilson people will have a fairer shot at being leaders on the Board. Then, ultimately, with new appointees, Gov. Schwarzenegger will be able to influence the policy of the Board by his appointments."
In the face of revitalized opposition, Connerly remains steadfast. "BAMN is the sort of entity that you would only dignify with a response," he told me. "But if you ignore them, then you almost lose the battle by default.
"Their tactics have no place in our democracy. ... Their name, By Any Means Necessary, reveals their militant, outrageous tactics. They are people who exploit young students, middle-school kids. They go to schools and somehow convince the teachers and principal to let middle-school kids out of school to serve as fronts for their protests and their rallies." This is absolutely accurate. At many BAMN rallies, high schoolers compose a large segment of the protesters. In Michigan, the Ann Arbor Huron High School allowed students to leave class and attend BAMN's anti-Connerly rallies. (Administrators at the high school could not be reached for comment.)
The hatred for Connerly runs deeper than his positions. There is a definite racial tinge to the resentment. A graphic on the BAMN Web site portrays Connerly as a marionette. The Black Commentator, an Internet-based newsmag for "African Americans and their allies in the struggle for social and economic justice" accuses Connerly of shilling for "rich white benefactors" and attempting "ethnic cleansing" against the black community.
"It's just unconscionable to them that a brown-skinned guy who is 'black' would dare to do what I do," Connerly observes. "'How dare you go against your people, go against THE community?!'" When asked if he has been distanced from the largely liberal black community, Connerly responds: "Yeah, but so what? It only affects you if you care."
And Connerly doesn't care. "I want to go out there on the battlefield and wrestle them, fight them. That's why I'm a threat to them. I'm not content."