Students Demand Representation and Respect

Matt Nelson, Carlo Albano
December 18, 2006

"Let us not put ointment on the wound of race, let us cut it out of the body politic like the cancer that it is." -- Ward Connerly.

"[Racial] preferences need to be challenged nationally, and I believe you are the man to do it." -- Thomas Rhodes, chair of the Bradley Foundation Board to Ward Connerly.

Wisconsin has reached a critical juncture that will determine the makeup and focus of the state's 26 public colleges and universities. And, once again, Ward Connerly -- a conservative political activist -- has been called to Wisconsin to revive the Right Wing's failing efforts to enhance discrimination and intensify racial injustice in higher education. Will the state forge inclusive, diverse, and democratic institutions, or will Wisconsin demonize, demean, and privatize our public institutions, rolling back the gains made by the Civil Rights Movement?

A meeting on affirmative action at the Wisconsin State Legislature on Tuesday, Dec. 19 features Connerly and Frederich Mohs as they seek to guide the state's policy regarding affirmative action programs in higher education. Led by an alliance of students of color, including Multicultural Student Coalition, Asian Student Alliance, Latino Student Union, Freedom Now! Collaborative, Black Student Union, Coalition for Diversity and Access and many more, Wisconsinites have united across the state in support of access and equal opportunity in higher education.

Students and faculty understand that the points raised by Ward Connerly mirror sentiments expressed by Ex-Regent Fredrich Mohs in his attempts to destroy affirmative action. In reality, faculty, students and staff voted overwhelmingly to do more, not less, to increase the presence of women and people of color in all of the University of Wisconsin (UW) System colleges and universities. This is highlighted by the recent vote of the UW-Milwaukee Faculty Senate to continue its support of the consideration of race and ethnicity as factors in admission. Nevertheless, these Bradley Foundation Right Wing operatives refuse to respect our decision.

The image of Jim Crow returning to Wisconsin necessitates a response to Connerly and Mohs's heavily funded misinformation campaign. First, who are Ward Connerly (aka Uncle Ruckus) and Ex-Regent Mohs?

Connerly became a spokesperson for "colorblindness" when he, himself, was a college student. During this time he stated, "Reveling in Blackness -- black is beautiful, black power, black consciousness -- just creates an invisible wall of difference that sets us apart."

In 1993, Connerly, now an appointed member of the Board of Regents for the state of California university system, moved directly into politics with the establishment of his Civil Rights Institution. Ironically as the name itself, this institution was founded on the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His outfit, armed with funding from the Bradley Foundation and supported by Washington neo-cons, soon led a head-on attack on affirmative action.

In 1993, Proposition 209 and Proposition 54 were placed on the California ballot. Proposition 209 passed and effectively dismantled the use of affirmative action in any student admission or faculty and staff hiring decision in California, and discarded both racial discrimination claims and any research geared towards improving the equality between the socioeconomic status of people of color and other members of American society.

Ex-regent Frederich Mohs was best known for bribing his way onto the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents with a $10,000 campaign contribution to Gov. Thompson, who then appointed him in 1994. Mohs' wife also gave the maximum contribution to the Thompson campaign with a second $10,000. During his tenure as a regent, his proposal to end affirmative action programs at all of the University of Wisconsin system schools was voted down at least three times.

In 1998, while serving on Madison's Mayor's Racial Task Force, Mohs suggested to Hmong immigrants that they could solve their financial problems and dealing with police by taking a second job at a "car wash or a PDQ." In a white paper he submitted to the Board of Regents in 2000, Mohs explained, "Everyone watching TV or the movies must be impressed by the increase in diversity." And, "No longer are minorities some distant class of people to be pitied for their ignorance and poverty. Minorities are everywhere ... "

What else are they saying?

First, they argue that diversity in higher education already exists. The facts at UW-Milwaukee -- where the largest population of people of color live and Madison, the system's flagship campus -- suggest otherwise.

For the last three years, student of color enrollment at UW-Milwaukee, as compared to the campus as a whole, has decreased. This year alone the enrollment of students of color at UW-Milwaukee has decreased 12 percent. UW-Madison ranks at the bottom for minority enrollment in the Big Ten and well below half the national average. At both institutions, the number of Native American, South East Asian and Latino students would have to at least double to match the current makeup of the state's college-aged population; African American students more than triple. Talk of "enough diversity" rings hollow when the door to this institution remains shut on so many.

Second, Connerly and Mohs suggest that affirmative action diminishes academic credibility by lowering admissions standards. Yet according to UW-Madison Professor Aaron Browers, after the first year, students of color and white students hold virtually identical GPAs (2.68 and 2.76, respectively). Another study finds that whites make up the bulk of those admitted here with low ACT scores. While these statistics refute the image of hordes of unqualified people of color pillaging the campus, they cannot relate the invaluable contribution diversity makes to the quality of education. If a university is a market place of ideas, then a store full of people with the same experiences and perspectives offers a pretty bland intellectual diet. Exposure to a myriad of identities, belief systems, and histories counters any facade of truth based upon exclusion while opening up countless avenues for personal growth.

Third, critics contend that affirmative action accords discriminatory "preferences" to women and people of color. Few who believe in equal opportunity have a problem with providing more opportunities to those wrongly denied their fair share. Opponents of affirmative action, therefore, must assume that racism and sexism no longer constitute significant obstacles to mobility. But the playing field is not level, which explains the relative absence of women and people of color from elite institutions and positions of authority.

State of crisis and student demands

Under-representation reflects a lack of opportunities for those under-represented. The playing field remains skewed against people of color who face pervasive discrimination in housing, financing, employment and education. Women of color must also wage daily struggles against gender-based discrimination, harassment and assault.

Students and faculty of color have identified major obstacles to an ethnically diverse student body including: 1) racial bias in primary and secondary education, 2) low levels of financial assistance, 3) a recruitment focus on white-dominated high schools and 4) a hostile cultural climate, both on and off campus.

Recruitment and retention policies arising from the recommendations for the Milwaukee Commitment and Plan 2008 will address and hopefully remove these barriers to equal opportunity, fair representation, a level playing field and respect. Eliminating affirmative action, in fact, would leave preferences, for white men and a legacy of discrimination, unchallenged.

Call to Action:
Join Freedom Now! Collaborative, Multicultural Student Coalition, Asian Student Alliance, Latino Student Union, and many others in opposing the end to Affirmative Action at the University of Wisconsin until the state's colleges and universities are truly representative of students and faculty of color.

Call the committee members and tell them to oppose Ward Connerly and support equality and Affirmative Action:

Senator Glenn Grothman, Chair
(608) 266-7513

Fred Mohs; Mohs, MacDonald, Widder & Paradise
(608) 256-1978

Matt Nelson and Carlo Albano are organizers with Campus Democracy Committee and Freedom Now! Collaborative based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.