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"Stanford participates in 'Day of Discussion' on affirmative action"

STANFORD -- While an estimated 5,000 students walked out of classes at the University of California-Berkeley on Oct. 12 as part of a national day of protest in response to the UC Regents' decision to end affirmative action at UC campuses, Stanford's Faculty Senate heard an explanation of the university's affirmative action policies from President Gerhard Casper.

Earlier in the day, more than 350 people crowded into Kresge Auditorium to listen to a faculty and staff panel discussion on the subject. The forum, titled "Affirmative Action, the University and Beyond," was co- sponsored by the programs in modern thought and literature, feminist studies, Jewish studies and African studies. Other sponsors included the Committee on Culture and Cultures, the Office of Multicultural Education, the Center for Teaching and Learning, and the Office of Multicultural Development.

Reiterating themes spelled out in a statement released on Oct. 4, Casper urged those with varied views to participate in thoughtful analysis rather than bullish debate.

The president's comments, which focused on "what Stanford is doing," rather than on the broad national political debate over affirmative action, garnered high praise from senate members.

"I've watched five presidents have to make public pronouncements in order to grapple with intractable serious national issues that become central in academic life and in the functioning of the university, and I've often been critical of every one of these presidents and sometimes I've fought them," said English Professor Robert Polhemus.

"This is by far the most thoughtful, by far the most intellectually rigorous and honest and helpful presidential public pronouncement that I've seen. . . . Thanks for showing an intellectual way, an academic way, a university way to go about seeking community and unity in a time when things can so easily fall apart," Polhemus said.

Programs that seek to increase diversity have not yet outlived their usefulness, Casper said. "I think that it's a fact that barriers continue to exist in society despite the progress that has been made over the last 20 years," he said. "Therefore, affirmative action asks us and continues to ask us to cast our net more widely, to broaden the competition and to engage in more active efforts for locating and actually recruiting applicants."

In his talk Casper reflected on Stanford's history, recalling that the university's initial policy of not charging tuition was adopted, as co-founder Jane Stanford said, to "resist the tendency to the stratification of society, by keeping open an avenue whereby the deserving and exceptional may rise through their own efforts from the lowest to the highest station of life."

Disregarding Jane Stanford's intention to curb society's "tendency toward stratification" would be tantamount to betrayal of the university's founders, Casper said. "It would be exceedingly narrow-minded to assume that the pursuit of the university as envisioned in the founding documents calls for a one-dimensional approach in choosing those to whom we give the opportunity to study at Stanford."

Although most of Casper's comments concerned undergraduate admissions, he said his remarks also applied to graduate admissions and employment at the university.

Casper said that the goals of seeking a diverse student body are twofold: to build a rich educational environment where students can learn a great deal from one another, and to adhere to the university's task of educating leaders for a diverse and complex society. "This cannot be done unless the country's demographic diversity finds a presence on campus," he said.

But broadening the definition of merit beyond "scaleable measures" doesn't justify admitting those who are not qualified, Casper stressed. At Stanford, he noted, special consideration is given to African Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans and children of alumni and athletes, provided they have been judged to be "excellent" and "exceptional" students with the potential to become leaders in their fields.

While Casper argued that it remains necessary "to level the field" by increasing the presence of underrepresented minorities at all levels of society, he added that he believes institutions such as Stanford should not assume the responsibility of attempting to address the effects of historic discrimination through the admissions process.

"University admissions offices are not set up to sit in judgment on what injustices society should compensate for and who should pay the price," Casper said. Such injustices, he noted, extend beyond claims of historic discrimination to include factors such as economic and social disadvantages.

"In order to survive in a sane society," he said, "we should not create incentives for ever more people to think in terms of victimhood or to play the role of victims, or to suggest that one must be disadvantaged to be given serious consideration in the college admissions process."

Casper said that he hoped admissions pools or employment pools in the future will reflect the ideal of equal opportunity without special outreach efforts. But he indicated that even when that day arrives, admissions officers at Stanford will continue to look beyond quantitative admissions criteria in assessing the intellectual vitality, character and promise of an individual applicant.

Even with affirmative action, he noted in his statement, students are admitted to Stanford "as individuals, not in groups."

"It is Stanford's very characteristic that it has never been one- dimensional and yet it has been able, especially over the last four decades, to become one of the world's most selective institutions," Casper said.

On the day that Casper was addressing the Faculty Senate, more than 30 Stanford students traveled to Berkeley's Sproul Plaza to join in an affirmative action march featuring keynote speaker Jesse Jackson, the Stanford Daily reported. Many of the students were members of the Stanford Black Student Union and some were members of RAGE, Resistance Action orGanizing Education.

More than 350 people at Stanford also participated in the national "Day of Discussion" on affirmative action by filing into Kresge Auditorium during the noon hour to listen to a panel of speakers.

History Professor Albert Camarillo - the first speaker on the panel to address the crowd of students, faculty and staff - described affirmative action in the context of a deeply embedded "creed of opportunity" in American culture. Camarillo argued that President Lyndon B. Johnson's affirmative action order was consistent with 18th-century revolutionary leaders who struggled to wrest the fledgling republic away from the yoke of English colonial rule. He also spoke of early 20th-century leaders such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, who formulated New Deal policies aimed at restoring hope in a time of economic crisis.

"The search for and development of national policies to foster opportunity is as American as apple pie," he said. "Not to view affirmative action in this light is to deny an ethos of fundamental American importance, past and present."

While Camarillo argued that equal opportunity for all "is the stuff that constitutes the American dream, both real and imagined," he pointed out that many of the nation's historic tragedies occurred because countless Americans were excluded from opportunity because of the color of their skin, their national origin or ethnic identity.

"As a student of race and ethnicity in American society, I know painfully well the long history of isolation, of separation and of alienation," said Camarillo, who called himself an "affirmative action baby," borrowing the term coined by Yale Law professor and Stanford alumnus Stephen Carter.

"Unlike Carter, I am proud of being an affirmative action baby," he said.

Camarillo argued that the affirmative action policies developed during Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society should not be abandoned now. "I, for one, cannot tolerate, and I don't think American society in general can tolerate, returning to what I experienced as a young Chicano out of a South Central L.A. community who, on the dawning of affirmative action policies, went to the UC university system.

"I was a freshman in the Class of 1966 at UCLA, out of a population of approximately 2,700 students. There were 44 other Mexican Americans besides my brother and me within a metropolitan population that contained over a million people of Mexican origin. Do we want to return to that type of alienation? We can't afford it on an individual basis and we can't afford it for society."

Camarillo argued that the United States has become the most economically stratified society among all industrial societies in the world and he listed several socioeconomic indicators to make his point. According to the 1992 census, he said, the top 1 percent of the wealthiest households in the United States own 40 percent of the nation's wealth. The top 20 percent of the wealthiest households in the United States own 80 percent of the nation's wealth.

Approximately 32 million Americans live below the federally established poverty line and millions of others live precariously near the poverty line, he said. When one considers race and ethnicity, he added, the percentage of people living below the poverty line is highly disproportionate to their representation in society at large.

In 1991, 33 percent of all African Americans and 29 percent of all Latinos living in the United States lived in poverty, Camarillo said. The percentage of non-Hispanic whites was 8 percent. Women and children constitute the fasting growing sector of poor people in this nation, Camarillo said. Rates of poverty for minority children have increased astronomically, he noted.

Though the historic wage gap between African Americans and whites has closed somewhat since the 1970s, Camarillo said, the differential of income and the education gap still is enormous.

Estelle Freedman, professor of history and chair of the feminist studies program, discussed affirmative action's importance to women. "White women may have been the largest beneficiaries of this policy historically," she said. Many women who earned college and graduate school degrees during the 1960s, 1970s and, to some extent, the 1980s "were educationally dressed up with no place to go," she said. In 1952, when Sandra Day O'Connor - now a Supreme Court justice - graduated second in her class from Stanford Law School, she could find employment only as a legal secretary.

"Today, Stanford women law graduates have a few other options," said Freedman, who listed several indicators of how women have benefited from affirmative action policies.

Consider the wage gap, Freedman said. In 1967, women earned 59 cents for every male-earned dollar, while in 1993, women earned 71 cents for every male-earned dollar. In the decade from 1982 to 1992, the percentage of all corporate vice presidents who were women jumped from 14 percent to 23 percent. Today, 8 million women own their own businesses, a 57 percent increase since 1982.

"That's the good news, but I really have to close with the recognition that there is [still] persistent inequality," she said. "It's not really time, as some have argued, that we can let down our guard."

Although white men constitute only 45 percent of the labor force, Freedman said they hold 95 percent of top management positions in the nation's largest corporations. While 23 percent of lawyers today are women, only 11 percent of the partners at large law firms are female.

Despite the fact that affirmative action policies have been instrumental in the "small but critical gains" that women have made in the last two decades, Freedman concluded that "the goal of sex equality in the work place is far from being achieved."

Affirmative action programs in staff hiring at Stanford have been quite successful to date, said Rosa Gonzalez, associate director of the Office for Multicultural Development. As of August 1995, 66 percent of Stanford's staff were women and 32 percent were minorities. But changes in management practices, such as downsizing and outsourcing, mean that her office will face a challenge in maintaining and increasing diversity in hiring.

Law Professor Robert Weisberg, vice provost for faculty recruitment and development, spoke about affirmative action policies in faculty hiring. Some institutions have drafted affirmative action policies that are so vague they are useless, Weisberg said. Others have developed documents on affirmative action policies that are so detailed they verge on being illegal. Stanford's policy, he said, is grounded solidly between the two.

Weisberg described a good affirmative action plan as one "that doesn't constitute a single document . . . but rather a set of memorandums of understanding." Stanford's affirmative action policy, as it pertains to faculty hiring, requires that departments and schools demonstrate that they actively have sought women and minority candidates for a position. Schools and departments that hire minorities are rewarded through the university's Faculty Incentive Fund with a half-billet and funds to support it, he added.

At the end of the panel discussion, the floor was opened for questions from the audience. Several people expressed concern that supporters of affirmative action are losing the battle in the current national debate, and they wondered what they could do to help build a strong case for preservation of such policies.

Only one student spoke against affirmative action. Julie Johnson, a sophomore who is president of the Stanford College Republicans, questioned the rationale of affirmative action practices as they relate to admissions. "I know that when students reach the level in which they can apply to a university such as Stanford," she said, "they have worked tremendously hard to get there. In the process they get way too stressed out, way too early. I have two friends that developed ulcers in high school. I think students give up a lot of what really should be the best years of their lives. But they do it to be able to come to a university like this.

"And after all that, I want to know how admissions can look a non-targeted student in the eye and say . . . that all other things being equal, some other student may be more fit to attend this institution because he or she inherited a different piece of DNA."

Renato Rosaldo, professor of anthropology who moderated the forum, approached Johnson's question from several angles. First, he noted, athletes and children of alumni also are given special consideration in the admissions process. Then he emphasized the point, made by President Casper, that admissions officers take several factors into account, in addition to test scores, when they are reviewing applications.

"No institution that I know of wants to admit people only to have them not be qualified, not be able to do the work, not be successful students. That's crazy," Rosaldo said. "I don't actually see any great dichotomy between the students who fall under affirmative action and those who don't in my experience as a teacher."

Rosaldo told the audience a simple story that he said goes straight to the heart of the affirmative action debate. It was about a man in the military who had 20 vacant positions that he needed to fill. Two of the positions were set aside for members of historically underrepresented minority groups. The 18 positions were filled, then the two minority positions were filled.

"As it turned out," Rosaldo said, "there were 200 people who felt that they had been displaced by the two positions. I think that is the way that race is being mobilized now. There are genuine feelings of hurt that are being expressed but they are not corresponding with what's going on."

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