'Silent' Commissioner Sides With New Majority
Hunt Valley, Md--Unlike most of her colleagues on the reconstituted U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Esther G. Buckley rarely entered the fierce debate over new directions for the fact-finding agency during its first meeting here last week.
Instead, the high-school teacher from Laredo, Tex.--who was privately dubbed "the silent one" by reporters covering the meeting--registered her opinions primarily by way of her votes. And in those votes, the commission's sole representative from the field of precollegiate education joined with the panel's new conservative majority on issues such as racial quotas, busing for school desegregation, and equal pay for comparable work.
Critics of the new commission have charged that Ms. Buckley was appointed to the panel by President Reagan because, as chairman of the Webb County, Tex., Republican Party, she could be expected to vote in ways that would benefit him politically.
But in an interview, Ms. Buckley, defended herself against those allegations, saying, "It is wrong for people to assume that I was placed here as a favor for my political activities."
"If you come [to the commission] saying, 'I already have my mind made up on the issues,' you're in the wrong place," she said.
Furthermore, Ms. Buckley added, her 13 years of experience as a teacher of mathematics, biology, and Spanish in a city that is 85 percent Hispanic will allow her "to address civil-rights issues in a more re-alistic way."
"Webb County is one of the biggest counties in Texas, but it's also one of the poorest," the new commissioner said. Practically all of the 800 students in the school where she teaches are Hispanic, and one-fourth of them have only limited proficiency in English.
Ms. Buckley, who received a master of science degree in education from Texas Agricultural and Industrial University at Laredo in 1975, said she was "most concerned" about the commission's decision to examine the increasing segregation of Hispanic students and the possible role of bilingual-education programs in encouraging this pattern.
She said that although she supported the study of Hispanic segregation, she does not believe that "bi-lingual education is necessarily a means of segregation."
"It all depends on the method of instruction that you use," Ms. Buckley said. "I think that if your purpose is to desegregate while improving proficiency in English, you should use every method you can that works."
On a related topic, Ms. Buckley said she does not believe in "mandatory busing."
"As a parent, I'd feel persecuted if I had to send my children somewhere where I didn't want them to go," said the mother of four school-aged children. Three of the children attend private high schools, and the fourth attends a public school in the family's neighborhood.
"Busing removes rights, and that's why I don't like it," she continued. "I don't like segregation, but I don't think the bus is the solution."
Ms. Buckley also said she does not think racial quotas should be used to remedy past discrimination in hiring and admissions to educational programs.
Affirmative-action programs, she said, help one class of people "at the expense of another, and that's what I worry about."
"When I went to college, if you didn't make the grade, you didn't get in," said Ms. Buckley, who is of Hispanic ancestry.
She added that she disagrees "with those people who say that our studies of affirmative action will focus only on the adverse effects of such programs."
"We will conduct impartial studies," she said.--tm