The National Endowment for the Humanities, reversing a policy established by its former chairman, Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, has reluctantly agreed to comply with statutes requiring it to set numerical goals and timetables annually for recruiting women and minorities.
“It is instructive to see how low our sense of justice has fallen in recent times,” said the acting N.E.H. chairman, John Agresto, in a prepared statement. “Men and women, we were once taught, were to be judged on the content of their character, not on the color of their skins. These required goals and timetables mock that view.”
Under Section 717 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended and Section 310 of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, all 110 federal agencies must file affirmative-action plans.
As part of a management directive issued in 1979 by the E.E.O.C., all federal agencies must also file reports that include goals and timetables for specific job classifications, “which should take into account the availability of basically qualified persons in the relevant job market.” The N.E.H., under Mr. Bennett’s leadership, refused in 1984 and 1985 to submit the required goals and timetables.
Refusal To Comply
Along with the N.E.H., the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission submitted incomplete reports in 1985.
An aide to Mr. Bennett told a House subcommittee last year that he would not file goals and timetables for the Education Department.
Currently, the executive order and the statutes do not specify penalties for agencies that fail to comply. Representative Cardiss Collins, Democrat of Illinois, introduced a bill last year that would provide for court action against such agencies, but the bill is stalled in a House subcommittee.
However, in legislation reauthorizing the N.E.H. last month, the Congress inserted language requiring that by Jan. 31, the chairman of the N.E.H. “shall transmit to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission each plan and each report required under any regulation or management directive that is issued by the commission.”
The N.E.H. is reauthorized every five years. The agency could jeopardize its funding--$132 million for fiscal 1986--if it does not comply with the order.
Of a total N.E.H. professional staff of 93, 56 are women, Mr. Agresto pointed out. Of those 56 women, 7 are black, 2 are Asian, and 1 is Hispanic. There are no black, Hispanic, or Asian men on the professional staff.
Of the 245 administrative, technical, and other staff members, 73 are minorities, and 180 are either women or minorities, he said.
Consequently, Mr. Agresto said, the N.E.H. is required to target male minorities and non-black minority women when openings occur.
But the E.E.O.C. does not require agencies to target white males, according to Mr. Agresto, even if they are “underrepresented” in terms of total numbers.
“What a ridiculous posture this agency must now assume when, in carrying out these required ‘goals,’ we have to say to women, including black women, that they will not be judged equally with others, that others are being given a race and sex preference over them,” Mr. Agresto said.
“We’re certainly glad the agency decided to comply with the intent and requirements of the law,” said S. Gray Garwood, staff director for the House Subcommittee on Select Education, which oversees the agency. “I’m a little confused as to why Mr. Agresto confuses personal conviction with the Administration’s law, which he is required to uphold.”
A version of this article appeared in the January 29, 1986 edition of Education Week