Equity & Diversity

Group Chides Bush on Civil Rights; Highlights Inequities

By Mary Ann Zehr — February 20, 2002 3 min read
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President Bush’s talk about “leaving no child behind” hasn’t been met by action, contends a report released last week by a nonprofit organization that monitors civil rights laws and enforcement.

The report, “Rights at Risk: Equality in an Age of Terrorism,” is available from the Citizens Commission on Civil Rights. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Members of the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights, the Washington-based group that published the report, criticized Mr. Bush for having nominated people to various administration jobs who are opposed to certain affirmative action strategies and other policies that the group believes protect the civil rights of minority groups or other vulnerable people.

Such nominations will “populate henhouses with foxes,” says the report, “Rights at Risk: Equality in an Age of Terrorism.”

“The president came to office trumpeting a concept he called compassionate conservatism,” Roger Wilkins, a professor of history and American culture at George Mason University and a mayoral appointee to the District of Columbia school board, said at a press conference here. “After a year, it’s crystal clear to me that compassionate conservatism is a sham, and most of the civil rights proposals of this administration deserve not only rigorous scrutiny but opposition.”

But Roger Clegg, the vice president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity in Sterling, Va., said the criticism of the administration on its civil rights record shows a lack of understanding of what conservatives stand for.

“I don’t see any evidence that the Bush administration is not committed to protecting the civil rights of students,” Mr. Clegg said. “Frequently the left accuses conservatives of being anti-civil rights, when in fact what conservatives reject are liberal policies that have nothing to do with civil rights or are antithetical to civil rights.”

William L. Taylor, the acting chairman of the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights, singled out Mr. Bush’s nomination of Gerald A. Reynolds to be the Department of Education’s assistant secretary for civil rights.

Mr. Reynolds, who at the time of his nomination last summer was the senior regulatory counsel for Kansas City Power and Light Co., is still waiting for the Senate to set a date for his confirmation hearing. Mr. Reynolds has consistently declined comment, through department spokesmen, pending his hearing.

Mr. Taylor noted that Mr. Reynolds had worked for the Center for Equal Opportunity, which opposes racial preferences. “His views have been opposed to many of the civil rights policies that he would be made in charge of,” Mr. Taylor maintained.

‘Liberal Policies’

Mr. Clegg said it would be absurd for Mr. Reynolds to be disqualified from the Education Department position merely because he opposes making racial distinctions in hirings and contracting decisions.

“In our view, the kind of affirmative action that uses racial and ethnic preferences is discrimination,” Mr. Clegg said. He said his organization supports the kind of affirmative action that prevents discrimination, such as casting a wide net to hire people or making it clear to people in personnel offices that racial discrimination won’t be tolerated.

While the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights focused on Mr. Bush’s civil rights record at its press conference, the “Rights at Risk” report speaks much more broadly about hindrances to equal opportunity that the group says have persisted much longer than the 13 months Mr. Bush has been in office.

It contains 19 working papers that provide updates on inequities in education, political participation, employment, and criminal justice, among other areas of public life.

For example, Chester Hartman, the president of the Poverty and Race Research Action Council in Washington, writes about how children who often change schools “get left behind.”

“Despite what should suffice as overwhelming evidence of the magnitude and deleterious impact of high classroom mobility,” he writes, “there has been a far too minimal role and responsibility taken by the various levels of government to deal with the issue.”

He calls on the federal government to improve systems for transferring records between schools for students who move frequently. He suggests that school districts provide transportation for students who move a short distance so they can remain in the same school through the end of a school year.

A version of this article appeared in the February 20, 2002 edition of Education Week as Group Chides Bush on Civil Rights; Highlights Inequities

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