Recent shifts in leadership at the Department of Education are continuing with the resignation of Gerald A. Reynolds as the assistant secretary for civil rights and President Bush’s announcement that he will nominate Eugene W. Hickok as the department’s second in command, a post he has occupied in an acting capacity since July.
Mr. Reynolds, who was the only one of the president’s original nominees for a senior department post who did not win Senate confirmation, stepped down Nov. 1 to accept a job in the Department of Justice.
From the time the president tapped him to run the Education Department’s office for civil rights in June 2001, Mr. Reynolds was a lightning rod for criticism from civil rights groups. The office is responsible for enforcing laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in schools and other educational institutions receiving federal funds.
The latest in a line of conservative African-Americans appointed to the post by Republican presidents, the former corporate lawyer encountered strong opposition to his nomination from such groups as the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, an influential Washington-based coalition of civil rights groups. Those critics joined some Democratic senators in criticizing his lack of experience in civil rights law, as well as his past jobs at two policy groups that oppose racial and ethnic preferences in areas such as college admissions. (“OCR Choice Renews Debate on Credentials Needed for Job,” Sept. 12, 2001.)
In thanking Mr. Reynolds for his service, Secretary of Education Rod Paige praised him as a trusted adviser, and said he could not “emphasize enough the importance of his role here at the department.”
“He has been a quiet voice of reason and a critical team player in our efforts to ensure educational excellence for all children,” Mr. Paige said in a statement. As of last week, the White House had not announced Mr. Reynolds’ successor.
After months of delay, the Senate held a hearing on Mr. Reynolds’ nomination in February 2002. The following month, Mr. Bush appointed him to the civil rights post using the president’s constitutional authority to skirt the confirmation process while Congress is in recess.
That “recess appointment” was due to expire this coming January, and although the president had formally renominated Mr. Reynolds, the confirmation process had not moved forward.
Mr. Reynolds could not be reached for comment last week on his reasons for moving to the Justice Department. There he will serve as a deputy to the department’s third in command, Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum Jr., and will oversee its civil consumer, immigration, and terrorism-related litigation, according to the Justice Department.
Officials of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights last week criticized Mr. Reynolds’ performance at the Education Department.
For example, they faulted the OCR for not providing schools guidance on interpreting last June’s landmark rulings in two cases involving admissions policies at the University of Michigan, which resulted in a qualified endorsement of the use of race and ethnicity to achieve classroom diversity.
They also claimed that the office had tried to intimidate school officials into abandoning race-conscious policies, and had removed from the department’s Web site Clinton-era policy-guidance documents on sexual harassment in education programs and discrimination in testing.
“The office under Reynolds’ leadership has been a disgrace,” said William L. Taylor, a veteran Washington civil rights lawyer who is the vice chairman of the leadership conference. “Instead of helping people comply with the law, they’ve simply erased previous efforts to offer guidance and not replaced them with anything new.”
A spokeswoman for the Education Department said the guidance documents in question were now available online in the department’s electronic archives. She declined to comment on the conference’s other charges beyond Mr. Paige’s statement, in which he said Mr. Reynolds’ “principled stances on civil rights issues have benefited countless students.”
Also defending Mr. Reynolds was his successor at the Center for Equal Opportunity, a public- policy group based in Sterling, Va., that opposes affirmative action. Roger B. Clegg, the center’s general counsel, said many Democrats “oppose anyone who does not support racial and ethnic preferences, particularly for positions that have important civil rights law-enforcement responsibilities.”
He said that was the case “particularly if those individuals happen to be African-American, because if an African-American opposes racial and ethnic preferences, it’s very threatening to them.”
Meanwhile, President Bush’s Oct. 31 announcement that he would nominate Mr. Hickok to serve as deputy secretary of education was not a surprise to department observers.
The former Pennsylvania schools chief, who has been among the administration’s most visible spokesmen for the No Child Left Behind Act, was confirmed by the Senate to the department’s No. 3 post, undersecretary of education, in July 2001. He also has been serving as acting deputy secretary since William D. Hansen stepped down from that post in July.
The president announced on Oct. 28 that he planned to fill the department’s No. 3 position with a top financial officer from the Department of Agriculture, Edward R. “Ted” McPherson. (“Fiscal Official Tapped for E.D. Post,” Nov. 5, 2003.)