Regents Re-do Affirmative Action Vote

United States

Lincoln Journal Stat (Nebraska)

March 8, 2008

 

By MELISSA LEE

New voices, same vote.  

The University of Nebraska Board of Regents issued a re-do Friday on a resolution opposing a proposed constitutional ban on affirmative action, following complaints regents hadn’t heard both sides when they first voted in January.

At that time, the board voiced unanimous support for programs and scholarships to boost racial and gender diversity at NU, which the university says are at risk under the Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative, a movement to end race- and gender-based affirmative action in the state.  

But the board’s discussion of the issue wasn’t included on the pre-printed agenda released to the public about a week before the meeting. That angered Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative supporters, who say NU intentionally shut out their views.

UNL chemistry professor Gerard Harbison accused the board of violating the Nebraska Open Meetings Act and said he’d go to court if regents didn’t void the resolution.  

Regents Chairman Chuck Hassebrook of Lyons maintains the board was in compliance with state law.

But the board revisited the issue to show its commitment to open-meetings rules, he said.  

This time, in five-minute blocks, two Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative allies had their say.

The board’s vote didn’t change.  

"We will jeopardize many of the programs we have" if an affirmative-action ban passes, said Regent Howard Hawks of Omaha.

NU is committed to diversity, President J.B. Milliken said.  

"I remain convinced that the programs that we identified would be at risk under (a ban) and I think that would be a mistake," Milliken said. "That would be a bad thing for the University of Nebraska."

Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative supporters reject assertions that programs like NU women’s centers and minority recruitment efforts would be in jeopardy if affirmative action is outlawed.  

Universities in California, where a similar ban is in place, still have women’s centers, for example, Harbison told regents. And they still have outreach programs geared toward different racial groups.

What’s illegal there, he said, are programs that exclude any racial or gender group.  

"It is not the goal of (the Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative) to end outreach … The goal of NCRI is to end discrimination and preferences," he said.

Marc Schniederjans, the initiative’s treasurer and a UNL management professor, told regents the presidential candidacies of Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama show the country is ready to move past sexism and racism.  

Assumptions that women and minorities can’t be successful without affirmative action are far outdated, Schniederjans said.

"This country and this state are moving on and most of us don’t want to be held back by the discrimination of the past," he said.  

Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative supporters are gathering petition signatures to place a race- and gender-based affirmative action ban on November ballots. They say they’re confident they’ll get the 115,000 signatures they need before July 4.

Hassebrook, voicing support for affirmative action, recalled a recent dinner with a Hispanic family from Columbus.  

The daughter, he said, will attend the University of Nebraska at Kearney this fall, thanks to special efforts by UNK’s Latino recruitment coordinator.

Her admission to UNK hurts no one and helps all Nebraskans, Hassebrook said.  

"That woman is displacing no other student at UNK … She’s not taking the place of somebody else," he said.

"Everybody in Nebraska oughta cheer to see that young woman going to college and becoming a contributing member of our state."  

 

 

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