Archive: March 2004 Cover Story

Published at

Counterpunch

The War on Civil Rights
What Gives Texas A&M the Right?

By GREG MOSES

[Editors’ Note: During February the Texas Civil Rights

Review uncovered documents from a specially appointed task force at Texas A&M that recommended strongly

in favor of affirmative action on Aug. 29, 2003. That finding was over-ruled by the President and

buried from public view. Following is the cover story that will appear for the next month at the Texas

Civil Rights Review.] During the Fall Semester of 2003, Texas A&M University President Robert Gates

put the Civil Rights Act in his pocket and he left it there until people thought it was his. And when

he refused to take it out of his pocket ever again, people said, okay, he can do that. But can he?

Can the President of a University pocket-veto the Civil Rights Act? Ultimately this is

a question for the federal government to decide. It would make a fine question for our Presidential

candidates. If elected president, Mr. Kerry or Mr. Edwards, will you enforce the Civil Rights Act in

College Station, Texas?

It was because of the Civil Rights Act that the Office of Civil

Rights visited Texas in 1978 to determine if de-segregation had been accomplished. But de-segregation

had not been accomplished in the higher education system of Texas.

At that point the OCR

had the power to make an adverse ruling against the state of Texas, which would have caused serious

difficulties with federal funding. And so, once again, because of the Civil Rights Act, Texas was

feeling some heat.

It is well documented in records kept by Texas A&M, and by analysis

that was produced at the time, that Texas A&M University Regents adopted affirmative action as a way to

show federal authorities that the Civil Rights Act has a meaning they were bound to

respect.

It made plain sense in 1980 that affirmative action in admissions was one

necessary means that a University under federal supervision for de-segregation should adopt. The state

of Texas then entered into a series of agreements, under federal supervision, for de-segregation. These

facts are plain as one can find. They are also plainly evaded.

In 1997, OCR returned to

Texas, found de-segregation still a work in progress, and in the summer of 2000 received from Governor

Bush assurances that all available means would be used to advance the de-segregation process. Then in

the summer of 2003 the Supreme Court restored the Constitutionality of affirmative action in Texas with

the Grutter ruling.

Where it is plainly agreed that a University should undertake every

means necessary for de-segregation, where that same University has previously agreed that affirmative

action serves as a baseline commitment of good faith toward de-segregation, and where affirmative

action is clearly vindicated by the Supreme Court as a Constitutional means to de-segregation, there

can be no plainer conclusion at hand as to what a University should be doing. But the conclusion is not

at hand. It is in the pocket of President Gates.

Soon after the Grutter ruling,

President Gates called together his best and brightest, and he asked them to consider what should be

done. By the end of the summer, his own hand-picked committee strongly recommended a return to

affirmative action.

Not only did President Gates put that report in his pocket, but he

failed to consult with state regulators about his responsibilities under the Civil Rights Act. Folks he

asked he ignored, folks he should have consulted, he did not.

If during this Black

History Month we are going to share platitudes about the meaning of America, if during this traditional

month of celebration for Lincoln’s birthday we are going to speak of one nation, and if the Civil

Rights Act actually happened and is really law in America, and in Texas, too, then, we have to say:

give back the Civil Rights Act President Gates, or step aside and give us a University President who

respects the laws and Constitution of the United States.

There are perhaps a thousand

ways to cut the argument for affirmative action in admissions. But given the peculiar circumstances in

College Station, Texas, crucial considerations have not yet been addressed. What is the meaning of the

Civil Rights Act? Is the federal Constitution still a framework that a Texas University President is

bound to respect?

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