California president aims for peace

September 1, 1995

Bitter opponents of the University of California regents, who last month voted to end "affirmative action" or positive discrimination programmes on nine state campuses, have taken to the Internet to make their feelings known.

At least 45 professors have put their electronic signatures to a petition posted on an electronic bulletin board, the Los Angeles Times reported, saying regents allowed "partisan party politics" to creep into their July 20 vote, in a "profound threat to the integrity of the university".

Ward Connely, the regent who pushed hardest for ending race and gender preferences in admissions, hiring and university contracts, said the professors among the 6,700-strong UC faculty should "go back to the classroom".

California governor Pete Wilson pushed the state regents into the controversial vote, having made affirmative action the distinguishing issue of his run for the White House. But it has failed to give a lift to what has so far been a lacklustre campaign, with Wilson trailing far behind the front-runners.

Republicans hoped that affirmative action would be their pet "wedge issue" to draw the votes of "angry white males" who feel they have been discriminated against. But there are some signs of a backlash, or at least new caution.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich has declined to back Senator Bob Dole, the front-runner, who has pledged to phase out affirmative action programmes. Other prominent Republicans have defended them, including Massachusetts Governor Willian Weld.

One Arizona politician, local representative Scott Bundgaard, claimed state universities were being overrun by black people, and has sought to eliminate race preferences in admissions. But critics have poured scorn on the campaign, pointing out that only 2 per cent of Arizona students are black.

The California regents confirmed this month their appointment of the Chancellor of UC's San Diego campus, Richard Atkinson, as president of the entire UC system.

But Atkinson, like the other eight of UC's campus chancellors, signed a statement saying that affirmative action programmes should be maintained. He now faces the task of restoring peace over this troubled issue.

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