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After Caution Comes Red:
The Bakke Decision and Its Threat to Black Educational Institutions


...a green light glowed for minorities in the sixties, but changed to "caution" with the Bakke decision of the late seventies....

The period following the end of the Civil War (1865) and culminating around 1877 has been called in American history the Reconstruction Era. For the newly freed slaves, it was a time of political participation and long-reaching reforms. Black men, though not in large numbers, served in Congress, in state legislatures, as superintendents of education, sheriffs, mayors and in many other state and local capacities. As educated and well-trained men, they pushed for and obtained reforms in the areas of public education, improvement of roads and railroads, changes in election laws and greater efficiency in government. With the removal of Federal troops from the South and the return of the dominant race to absolute power, such reforms and black involvements were soon eradicated by forceful tactics and later sanctioned by law, until the decade of the sixties.

For many persons the 1960s, characterized by a renewed drive of blacks for greater reforms and political participation in the American system of government, was the beginning of the "Second Reconstruction Era." It was during this period that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1865 and the Fair Housing Law of 1968 were passed. Blacks were elected to positions on the local, state and national levels; a black was appointed to the Supreme Court; and gains were made in the area of school desegregation.

However, as the decade of the seventies commenced many seemed to detect that the civil rights drive and pulse of the nation were somewhat decreasing. The numerous signs of the time began to indicate that perhaps black Americans' quest for equality was beginning to  enter a period of the "doldrums." Therefore, in an atmosphere characterized as one of retrenchment in the areas of civil rights, political participation and economic gains, many blacks began to eye with concern the possibility of the complete end of the "Second Reconstruction."

The concern was further highlighted and supported by the June 28, 1978, Supreme Court decision in the Bakke case. The Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the University of California at Davis Medical School's special program of reserving sixteen of 100 seats in its entering class for blacks, Asian-Americans and Hispanics constituted a rigid quota system, and therefore was in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Bakke, a 38-year-old white civil engineer, was denied admission in 1973 and again 1974. After following legal channels, his case reached the High court. In its decision the Supreme Court stated that colleges and other institutions which receive Federal money fall under the anti-discrimination provision of the 1964 Act. Therefore, "affirmative action programs aimed at helping minorities may not include fixed racial quotas or rigid racial goals." However, a majority of the Court also declared, 5 to 4, that a university could continue to take race into consideration.

The reactions were many and varied, especially among black leaders. According to the Reverend Jesse Jackson, head of Chicago's Operation PUSH and promoter of EXCEL, or Excellence in Education, the ruling was a "devasting blow to our civil rights struggle, though not a fatal one. It is consistent with the country's shift to the right, or shift in mood from redemption to punishment." In this same vein, Ron Dellums, the Congressman from California, expressed the view that Bakke's victory wil underscore the attack on affirmative action programs: "It is still alive and breathing, but with great difficulty."

Other black leaders interpreted the dicision as neither a loss or gain for black Americans, but a mixture of both. Among them were Coretta Scott King, widow of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Benjamin Hooks, executive directior of the NAACP and the president of the National Urban League, Vernon Jordan.

Perhaps, of all the reactions and comments expressed by governmental leaders educators, lay people, civil rights advocates and legal experts, the one made by Alan M. Derschowitz, the decision "is an act of judicial statesmanship...that will go down in history not for what it did, but what it didn't do."

The Supreme Court in the Bakke decision did not legitimize racial quotas nor did it destroy affirmative action programs. What it didn't do should be of special concern now and in the years ahead for the judiciary, academic community, lay citizens and minorities, especially blacks. For black students, faculty and administration who are involved in a predominantly black setting of higher education, the decision should represent a grave concern. Surely, each should realize that a green light glowed for minorities in the sixties, but changed to "caution" with the Bakke decision of the late '70s. Therefore, academic and administrative preparation for a "red" light, if not made in the past, will involve some changes and renewed commitments, now and in the futures, from each segment.

First, some black students are asked to become followers of EXCEL (PUSH Program for Excellence in Education), led by Jesse Jackson. The student's desire to perform at the highest level of his or her capabilities is the key to success. Such an inner drive for excellence has not only been set forth by Jackson in inner-city schools, but to college students also. Speaking at commencement ceremonies at Southern University's Baton Rouge campus, on May 21, 1976, he emphasized intrinsic motivation on the party of the student:

...You must put forth and effort. Whether the teacher is well trained or not, has a PH.D. or not, if the student is not willing to learn under either condition, will he learn? ... The schools pre-suppose that there must be a will to learn and an urge for excellence.

In addition to requesting a drive for excellence, students were asked to improve their communicative skills, especially reading and writing. Stop blaming the system and work to overcome it, especially through practice. With regard to practice in reading Jesse Jackson has made the following remarks:

We keep saying that Johnny can't read because he's deprived, because he's hungry, because he's discriminated against. We say that Johnny can't read because his daddy is not in the home. Well Johnny learns to play basketball without daddy. We do best what we do most... One of the reasons Johnny does not read well is that Johnny doesn't practice reading.

However, Jackson realizes that practice in these areas is a part of the solution but not the solution.

Others have also offered advice as a part of the solution to the reading and writing problem. William Moore, Jr., and Lonnie Wagstaff, the authors of "Black Educators in White Colleges," have made the following suggestions:

The student must learn that everything worthy of learning cannot be directly related to the black eperience. While they may choose the writings of Eldridge Cleaver and Franz Fanon over Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, if they cannot read they cannot understand Cleaver and Fanon...Black students must ultimately compete in Standard English, at least when they write and often when they speak....The heroes of young blacks (Cleaver, Fanon and others) also have these language skills; they write books.

Finally, black students are asked not to become followers of what Harold Cruse called "Black Skin Chauvinism which can lead to the reasoning that I'm blacker than you and so is my mama, so I'm purer than you and your mama. Therefor, I am more nationalistic than you and more politically trustworthy than you and your mama, in the interests of Black Power."

Don't forget that the dashikis, Afros, clenched fists, blue jeans and jackets, the songs, the black studies, the music, the "soul" foods, the portraits in verse, the "rapping black" are the symbols. The substance is black men and women finally free to pursue their goals secure in the dignity of their manhood. The substance is a change in the minds and hearts of black people. Such a change will indicate the eradication of the slavery image of a happy child-"the perpetual good humor that seemed to make the Negro character, the good humor of an everlasting childhood." (Stanley M. Elkins, Slavery: A Problem in Institutional and Intellectual Life, 1968.)

The Bakke decision as a "caution" light also has a message for some black teachers. They should begin to follow the suggestion of Barbara Sizemore, the nation's former only black female superintendent in a metropolitan school district-Washington, D.C.:

...We've got to get teachers used to the idea that they teach people, not subjects . . . and nothing is going to be done until people become aware that what we are doing is incompatible with the way people grow. Instruction must assist growth. 

It is not a widespread belief that instruction is assisting growth when the acquisition of knowledge is the only requirement for success in a course. Black students should be involve in higher levels of thinking, involving applications, uncovering the organizational structure of material, synthesizing and judging the value of a given work. Some teachers must be led to believe that instruction further hampers growth when students are never permitted to ask questions. They should worry less about students finding the "right" answer and more about asking analytical questions and learning "how to think."

The Bakke decision, as a cautionary light, says students must be taught "how to think" and therefore, instruction must be improved. Presently,, there are weaknesses in instruction when a teacher lectures for fifty minutes each class period with the only requirement being the taking of notes to be memorized for true-false, matching, multiple-choice, completion-type, recall and recognition examinations. There are weaknesses in instruction when students are not required to read other works nor write during the entire semester; or if they write, it's a discussion type ("tell all you know") examination. Therefore, the Bakke decision should mean that some teachers will develop a sense of purpose.

THis means developing teachers' ability and their desire to think seriously, deeply, and continuously about the purposes and consequences of what they do-about the ways in which their curriculum, and teaching methods, classroom...organization, testing and grading procedures affect purpose and are affected by it. (Charles E Silberman, Crisis in the Classroom: The Remaking of American Education, 1970.)

For a teacher can only touch the lives of his student if his life has been touched.

Having reached the mountaintop we come face to face with the administration. Using the Bakke decision as a "caution" light the administration is asked not to become what Charles E. Silberman calls victims of "mindlessness" -the failure or refusal to think seriously about educational purpose. "The institution must be infused with purpose...more important, with thought about purposes, and about the ways in which techniques, content, and organization fulfill or alter purpose.
...The process of self-examination...must by continuous." The administration and line and staff personnel must think about what they are doing, and why.

In the area of faculty morale the administration is being asked to use positive practices to improve material factors, such as salary, facilities, equipment and supplies. The salary factor should be a major objective of any administration. If one of the goals of high morale is maximum performance of the tasks assigned, then a teacher who cannot adequately provide for his family cannot be positive in his work. So he "moonlights" after school, taking a job basked on ecomonic consideration rather than professional growth and advancement.

Top-level officials must also consider the effects of facilities, equipment and supplies on the morale of the faculty. Many teachers who want to do an excellent job are limited by these factors. Therefore, the creation of an ideal climate, within limits, is requested.

Morale is also affected by human factors. From the Western Electric Company's studies at its Hawthorne Works the conclusion was reached that has meaning for the academic community. When interest and attention are shown toward employees, the workers feel important, morale is improved and production increases. Therefore, feeling and attitudes influence work behavior.

The administration should, therefore, create conditions that will enable personnel to function toward the completion of organizational goals; create motivating conditions; be a guiding light for other personnel; provide opportunities; and produce conditions that will bring satisfaction to personnel.

As a concluding remark, the Bakke decision, as a "caution light," can be the spark that will ignite faculty and administration in working toward the day when most black students will not have to rely upon "crutches" or mechanisms which simply encourage a "welfare syndrom." When the "red light" shines, black students, instrinsically and extrinsically motivated, will not need special programs as a means to determine admission to professional schools and other areas. Instead, they will be secure in their abilities, competencies, outlooks and self-concepts. They will feel and know that they can walk alone whether the hands of the clock turns right or left or the light changes from "caution" to red."

R. JEAN SIMMS-BROWN is Assistant Professor of History at Southern University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

THE CRISIS, February 1979

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