The War on Civil Rights
What Gives Texas A&M the Right?
By GREG MOSES
[Editors’ Note: During February the Texas Civil Rights
Review uncovered documents from a specially appointed task force at Texas A&M that recommended strongly
in favor of affirmative action on Aug. 29, 2003. That finding was over-ruled by the President and
buried from public view. Following is the cover story that will appear for the next month at the Texas
Civil Rights Review.] During the Fall Semester of 2003, Texas A&M University President Robert Gates
put the Civil Rights Act in his pocket and he left it there until people thought it was his. And when
he refused to take it out of his pocket ever again, people said, okay, he can do that. But can he?
Can the President of a University pocket-veto the Civil Rights Act? Ultimately this is
a question for the federal government to decide. It would make a fine question for our Presidential
candidates. If elected president, Mr. Kerry or Mr. Edwards, will you enforce the Civil Rights Act in
College Station, Texas?
It was because of the Civil Rights Act that the Office of Civil
Rights visited Texas in 1978 to determine if de-segregation had been accomplished. But de-segregation
had not been accomplished in the higher education system of Texas.
At that point the OCR
had the power to make an adverse ruling against the state of Texas, which would have caused serious
difficulties with federal funding. And so, once again, because of the Civil Rights Act, Texas was
feeling some heat.
It is well documented in records kept by Texas A&M, and by analysis
that was produced at the time, that Texas A&M University Regents adopted affirmative action as a way to
show federal authorities that the Civil Rights Act has a meaning they were bound to
It made plain sense in 1980 that affirmative action in admissions was one
necessary means that a University under federal supervision for de-segregation should adopt. The state
of Texas then entered into a series of agreements, under federal supervision, for de-segregation. These
facts are plain as one can find. They are also plainly evaded.
In 1997, OCR returned to
Texas, found de-segregation still a work in progress, and in the summer of 2000 received from Governor
Bush assurances that all available means would be used to advance the de-segregation process. Then in
the summer of 2003 the Supreme Court restored the Constitutionality of affirmative action in Texas with
the Grutter ruling.
Where it is plainly agreed that a University should undertake every
means necessary for de-segregation, where that same University has previously agreed that affirmative
action serves as a baseline commitment of good faith toward de-segregation, and where affirmative
action is clearly vindicated by the Supreme Court as a Constitutional means to de-segregation, there
can be no plainer conclusion at hand as to what a University should be doing. But the conclusion is not
at hand. It is in the pocket of President Gates.
Soon after the Grutter ruling,
President Gates called together his best and brightest, and he asked them to consider what should be
done. By the end of the summer, his own hand-picked committee strongly recommended a return to
Not only did President Gates put that report in his pocket, but he
failed to consult with state regulators about his responsibilities under the Civil Rights Act. Folks he
asked he ignored, folks he should have consulted, he did not.
If during this Black
History Month we are going to share platitudes about the meaning of America, if during this traditional
month of celebration for Lincoln’s birthday we are going to speak of one nation, and if the Civil
Rights Act actually happened and is really law in America, and in Texas, too, then, we have to say:
give back the Civil Rights Act President Gates, or step aside and give us a University President who
respects the laws and Constitution of the United States.
There are perhaps a thousand
ways to cut the argument for affirmative action in admissions. But given the peculiar circumstances in
College Station, Texas, crucial considerations have not yet been addressed. What is the meaning of the
Civil Rights Act? Is the federal Constitution still a framework that a Texas University President is
bound to respect?