ONE, TWO, THREE.Red Light: Legal Steps Backward on Equal Opportunity in Higher Education

By Brown, M. Christopher | Black Issues in Higher Education, May 3, 1996 | Go to article overview

ONE, TWO, THREE.Red Light: Legal Steps Backward on Equal Opportunity in Higher Education


Brown, M. Christopher, Black Issues in Higher Education


ONE, TWO, THREE...Red Light: Legal Steps Backward on Equal Opportunity in. Higher Education

The game, "One, Two, Three...Red Light," played by elementary school children is an excellent metaphor for the state of Black progress in higher education.

If you recall the rules, the teacher, with his or her eyes closed, starts to count, "one, two, three...' as the children scramble toward the appointed goal. Sometimes there is a long delay -- in the case of Black academic progress, 30 years -- before the teacher shouts: "Red Light!" If anyone is still moving when the teacher opens his or her eyes, that student has got to go back to the starting line. What an appropriate metaphor for the current conservative retrenchment in educational law and policy.

In "Beyond the Ivory Tower," Derek Bok, the past president of Harvard University, said, "the vital question is not whether preferential admission is a success, but whether it has made more progress toward overcoming the legacy of discrimination than other strategies that universities might have pursued. Universities should stick by their conviction that a judicious concern for race in admitting students will eventually help lift the arbitrary burdens that have hampered Blacks in striving to achieve their goals in our society."

Conservative Backlash

Although the current conservative backlash is the result of social hostilities birthed by the rage and paranoia of white males who fear a loss of their historic station, these legal battles involving African-American access to higher education have resulted in giant steps backward on equal opportunity.

In the three decades since the enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, predominantly white universities have not been particularly successful in recruiting and retaining African-American students, much less faculty. Institutions throughout the country have initiated a variety of programs and policies to promote the recruitment and retention of students of color. Unfortunately, these initiatives have not achieved their intended goals. Additionally, the disparity between the numbers of faculty of African and European descent entering the higher education workforce is widening, with the upper hand in favor of European faculty. In almost every region of the country and in most universities, Black faculty are seriously underrepresented across all ranks.

Notwithstanding, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) introduced Senate Bill 318 that would bar the use of affirmative action in all college and university hiring practices. This legislation seeks to eradicate the guidelines that have opened the doors of academe to Blacks, women and other populations and thus broadened the pool of prospective employees through enlarging the number of qualified personnel.

Recent court cases and S 318 represent not only a massive reduction in both student and faculty access to the "poison" ivy-covered walls of academe, but also an attempt to kill the spirit of Black progress in higher education. The most prominent leap backward involves the destruction and closure of historically Black institutions (or as it is more technically called, dismantling dual systems of higher education).

Reducing Access

After 40 years of race-neutral mission statements and admission requirements, the Supreme Court has declared that the mere existence of HBCUs in several states (Alabama, Ohio, Louisiana, Mississippi) delineate segregation. …

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