WARD CONNERLY is a prophet without honor, preaching the message of racial equality and civil rights where it’s most bitterly resented—the college campus.
As a University of California regent, he successfully pushed to ban the use of racial preferences in admissions back in 1995. He followed that up with a successful voter referendum eliminating preferences throughout California government a year later, then did it again in Washington State. Now he spearheads efforts to end the University of Michigan’s Supreme Court-sanctioned preferences regime and to stop the collection of racial data in California government.
But it’s back on the college campus, in his capacity as a UC regent, that Connerly now wages one of his most significant battles to date: Reclaiming the Ivory Tower from the racial agitators.
Today, before fellow regents who will almost certainly react hostilely, Connerly plans to put forward a resolution calling for the end of university funding for racially segregated events such as orientation programs and graduation ceremonies. It’s an effort that’s all but certain to fail, yet important nonetheless, if for no other reason than the battle against racialist insanity on the modern campus must be waged, even if there’s but one brave man willing to wage it.
For anyone who hasn’t been on a campus in the last decade or two, the mere existence of racially segregated orientations and graduations might seem unbelievable, a throwback to the Jim Crow past. Unfortunately, the Jim Crow past is the present in academia, where administrators are obsessed with dividing, categorizing, and socially engineering their student populations. There’s seldom a college or university today that doesn’t have racially segregated student unions, dormitories, fraternities, and sororities for black, Asian, Hispanic, and gay students.
The separatist mentality continues in the classrooms as well, with a “studies” department for each and every ethnicity, race, culture, and sexual orientation. (In the spirit of inclusive exclusion, even white people get their own department these days.) Separate orientation programs and graduation ceremonies are the bookends of the divisive experience. The Washington Post reports that Vanderbilt, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford, and Berkeley were some of the more prestigious institutions to hold minority graduation ceremonies this spring.
Under the proposal Connerly plans to bring before the UC Board of Regents today, such events could and no doubt would still continue, just not on the taxpayers’ dime. Connerly’s objection isn’t to the constitutionally protected right to freedom of association, but the constitutionally prohibited notion of “separate but equal.”
It’s a notion that’s dominant in the academy, and one that’s made college campuses into some of the most racially divided places in the nation. Separate facilities and programs, combined with racist agitprop posing as legitimate scholarship, have turned academia into a place of acute race consciousness, with students often leaving less integrated than when they arrived. Students widely report racially segregated seating in dining halls, and even racially separate extracurricular activities, from theater groups, to singing clubs, dance troupes, and student publications.
Of all the separatist policies, none is more divisive than the segregated orientation programs. In college, freshmen tend to befriend the people they meet first, and when that’s all people of one race, the balkanization is all but inevitable.
Ironically it’s “diversity” that the left claims—and the U.S. Supreme Court has deemed—the great the justification for racial preferences, one so profound that it trumps even the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee to equal protection under the law. Yet in campuses as color-coded as Apartheid-era Johannesburg, diversity can scarcely be said to exist. The deliberately engineered, racially divided campus that Connerly fights to reform is the ultimate proof that, for the left, “diversity” is little more than a rhetorical justification for a larger racialist agenda.
It’s that agenda that Connerly labors heroically to combat, standing all but alone among those with some say as to what actually goes on inside the Ivory Tower. He’s proposed ending UC funding for racially separate programs twice before (in 1996 and 1998), only to suffer the same defeat that’s likely to befall him again this time. But it’s his persistence that ultimately leads to his victories, such as California’s ban on racial preferences and his Michigan initiative that will not only pass but also undo—in one state, anyway—the Supreme Court’s bizarre jurisprudence.
But being a prophet with honor has its hardships. Editorialists at the Los Angeles Times recently smeared Connerly as a “self-designated racial policeman”—a term they would never stick to racialist enforcers who truly deserve it, like Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. The paper mocked Connerly’s “quest for a colorblind society” and denounced his “repetitive, increasingly narrow message.”
It’s an insult that editorialists could once have just as easily hurled at another prophet without honor, Martin Luther King, Jr.