lino Graglia is a 67-year-old Sicilian-born American who was an attorney in the Eisenhower Justice Department and has been teaching constitutional law at the University of Texas in Austin for 33 years. A stiff-necked Catholic conservative -- some would say eccentric -- he passionately holds to a belief that some would call fundamentalist: that if representatives of the sovereign people choose to enact a law that is not contradicted by the actual text of the Constitution, then that law is constitutional. Period.
Last week, the president of his university, the chancellor and 51 of his law school colleagues denounced him. State legislators, including the chairman of the Hispanic Caucus, described him variously as a Klan supporter, a racist and "academic riff-raff." The Houston Chronicle condemned him as an "embarrassment" and the local NAACP and three student groups charged him with "racial harassment." Jesse Jackson urged 5,000 cheering campus demonstrators to boycott his classes and "turn him into a moral and social pariah."
Graglia's crime? As usual in these intellectual autos-da-fé, for telling an
uncomfortable truth: that affirmative action is simply an attempt to conceal or wish
away the unwelcome fact that blacks and Mexican-Americans are not academically competitive with whites and Asians. Graglia made the remarks in a speech to
"Students for Equal Opportunity," a campus organization for whom he was the faculty advisor. The topic of the meeting was the Hopwood case, which recently ended affirmative action at the university.
Graglia had not come by those views recently. Twenty years ago he wrote a book called "Disaster by Decree: The Supreme Court Decisions on Race and the Schools," and is accustomed to describing affirmative action programs as a "fungus" and a "fraud." His latest remarks on the subject were almost tepid by comparison, leaving Graglia totally unprepared for the public burning that followed them.
The frenzy has been so strong that out of a faculty of more than 1,000 professors, only two have been willing to come forward to defend the character of a man who has taught for three decades alongside them and whose Dean, after reviewing his personal file, stated that there were no grounds for disciplinary action. Despite the NAACP's charges, the Dean added, "The record does not justify a charge that he discriminates against his students and others on the basis of race or ethnicity." Indeed, as the Houston Chronicle reported, "No one has offered any evidence that Graglia treats minority and white students differently."
What then provoked such a lynch mob atmosphere? In the original newspaper story about the speech, Graglia is quoted as saying that "blacks and Mexican-Americans can't compete academically with whites." While such a statement could be considered factual, if one looks at the figures, it also could be considered racist if taken to mean that such minorities by nature can't compete.
Alert to this nuance, the reporter
asked Graglia what he thought caused the gap in performance on standardized tests. Graglia answered that he didn't know. The reporter pressed on. Did Graglia think the cause was "genetic or cultural?" Graglia said he thought it was cultural, and suggested that perhaps academically underachieving groups put less emphasis on academic achievement and did not necessarily consider academic failure "a disaster." Later, Graglia explained how, in his own Sicilian household as a child, academic achievement was given less emphasis than among many Jewish households he knew. Various studies seem to show "that blacks and Mexican-Americans spend much less time in school," he said. "They have a culture that seems not to encourage achievement. Failure is not looked upon with disgrace."
Similar points were made in last week's U.S. News & World Report story on the differing academic attainment of white and black students in the schools in Little Rock, Ark., and elsewhere across the country. "In some cases ... it is black parents themselves who steer their children away from honors classes or don't fight to keep them enrolled," wrote the U.S. News reporter. "Black students say there is also peer pressure not to take honors classes."
So Graglia is not alone in his beliefs. Why then is this distinguished professor of law now a pariah in his own community? Because the atmosphere of intimidation on college campuses around the issue of affirmative action is as thick today as the anti-communist paranoia of the McCarthy era. Graglia is being strung up for saying an obvious but discomforting truth: that blacks, Hispanics and other minorities designated for affirmative action preferences are not competing intellectually on standardized tests.
Now buried under the Everest of invective, Graglia also said something more in the text of his remarks before the "Students for Equal Opportunity":
"Racial preferences are the root cause of virtually all the major problems plaguing American campuses today. They result in a student body with two groups, identifiable by race, essentially in different academic ballparks. An inability to compete successfully in the game being played necessarily results in demands that the game be changed, and thus are born demands for black and Hispanic studies and 'multiculturalism.' Little is more humiliating to the racially preferred than open discussion of the conditions of their admission. Concealment and deception are therefore always essential elements of racial preference programs -- and thus is born insistence on political correctness and the need [to suppress] 'hate speech.'"