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Racial Balancing in Higher Education

ED GORDON, host:

For another side of the story, I'm joined now by Ted Shaw, director, counsel, and president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Ted, welcome.

Mr. TED SHAW (Director, Counsel, and President, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund): Thank you. Good to be with you.

GORDON: You heard what Mr. Connerly had to say. I'm curious - it seems to be two tracks running. There's the question of whether African-American kids are being given a quality education in this country, and then, of course, the question of Affirmative Action and how the Supreme Court is dealing with it. Some say the waters are being muddied by marrying these two arguments.

Mr. SHAW: Well, the issue of quality education is not identical to the issue of whether we're going to have desegregated educational or integrated educational opportunities, although the two are not entirely unrelated. I think that, unfortunately in this country, we've gone back to the challenge of trying to figure out whether we can make racially separate education equal. My view is that it's not that black children have to sit next to white children in order to learn, because there's something magic about white children that will rub off against black children.

But we know there are affects of racially isolated and also poverty impacted public school education that we need to recognize and address. The issue in the two Supreme Court cases that the Court cases that the Court has decided to hear is whether or not voluntary integration efforts will be legal and constitutional. And if have we reached a point in this country where that is going to be outlawed, then that's a terrible, terrible regression back to the days before Brown vs. Board of Education.

GORDON: What's the biggest magnitude of possible decisions here, Ted, when you look at the difference between the University of Michigan case on Affirmative Action a few years ago? Here we're talking about public education, which should be accessible to everyone, versus what was looked at before. Will this be more far reaching?

Mr. SHAW: Well, it's hard to say. The Michigan case involves access to selective universities. Not everybody goes to college. But everybody goes to elementary and secondary school, not necessarily a public school. But most of our children in this country do attend public schools. And, in that sense, this is going to have far reach.

The analysis of the issues should be different when one compares elementary and secondary school voluntary integration attempts and admissions to higher education in selective institutions. On the other hand, there's a common question that is being driven by ideologue on the conservative side of the fence. They're trying to outlaw any and all attempts to make progress with respect to racial inequities in a race-conscious way. Now the truth is, is that any time you want to address racial inequity, you're going to act in race-conscious ways.

You know, one of the interesting things about Ward Connelly is that he seems to be backtracking, in my view, on what he said before. Because clearly, the impact of Proposition 209 has been to knock out qualified students, and he seems to suggest that they're unqualified. But, in fact, they were qualified, and they were doing the work. And it's had a tremendous effect in terms of the numbers of students of African-American descent at the University of California throughout the entire system.

Now, I want to be very clear about this. The problem is that there's a gap between white and Asian-American performance on standardized test scores that Ward Connelly isn't recognizing, let alone the gap between black students and white students or black and Asian students. And there's all kinds of affirmative action going on in admissions to higher education. There's a gap between males and females these days in academic achievement, and nobody is questioning whether we have to do something to make sure that we have males in higher education or getting access to educational opportunity. I believe that the bottom of the opposition is a very distorted analysis of race, and some of it is bottomed in the proposition unspoken.

GORDON: Ted, with about a minute to go…

Mr. SHAW: (Unintelligible) among black students.

GORDON: With about a minute to go, I want to get a sense of what you believe versus what Mr. Connelly suggested, and he is suggesting that Prop 209 and the push back on affirmative action really had nothing to do with the low numbers. We talked about UCLA, its worst admissions of African-Americans in the last 30 years - 2 percent only of the freshman class. You believe that these assaults on affirmative action clearly are a cause and effect with these numbers, correct?

Mr. SHAW: Oh, I don't think there's any question that there's a cause and effect. And when Proposition 209 was first implemented, some of the comments that Mr. Connelly and others made, I think, assumed that if there wasn't going to be a drop in the numbers of black and Latino students who were being admitted to these selective institutions, they would suspect that there were some shenanigans going on, and that the universities were trying to get around Prop 209. We're talking about institutions that select at a very, very high level among very qualified students of all races in a narrow band of qualifications, and there were plenty and there are plenty of African-American students who are qualified to do the work at UCLA or the University of California at Berkley.

GORDON: All right. Ted Shaw is director-counsel and president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Ted, thanks for joining us.

Mr. SHAW: Good to be with you, Ed.

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GORDON: Coming up, one restaurant in the City of Brotherly Love tells immigrants if they want to eat there, they have to speak English. And a former mayor of Atlanta sentenced for tax evasion. We'll discuss these topics and more on our roundtable. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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