Ran into none other than state Sen. Ed Jones at the Ritz a few days ago. Ed, toupee only slightly askew, was sittin' at the bar with Sarah Jack and Bob Gardner, both of whom did a lot to get Ed elected last November.
Prior to the election, as you may remember, the Independent ran a long piece that explored Ed's past in some detail (if you missed it, you can still check it out online at www.csindy.com). As Sgt. Friday might have said, "We just printed the facts, Senator," but Ed was, and is, mightily displeased with this newspaper.
At any rate, after noisily proclaiming the utter worthlessness of our fine publication, Ed focused proudly on the anti-affirmative action bill that he'll be introducing in the next legislative session. We sparred for a while. I pointed out that George W. had benefited from affirmative action when admitted to Yale in the '60s; he shot back that Yale, as a private institution, could admit whomever they chose. He then offered to debate me on the subject -- "any time, any place!"
Now that was an interesting offer, especially since Sarah and Bob practically taped Ed's mouth shut during the campaign to avoid going off message. But I guess that they figure he can risk a gaffe or two nowadays since Ed's next election is not until 2006.
Ed's proposed bill, in case you haven't heard, would forbid any publicly financed educational institution to consider race as a factor in admissions.
It is, of course, just another deeply cynical move by Republicans, locally and nationally, to create a wedge issue that'll make trouble for Democrats. God, guns, gays, abortion; why not add race to the mix? Under the guise of promoting liberty and equality for all, let's send a nice message to all of those resentful white guys that we're on their side. Hey, we can even quote Martin Luther King to make our point ("color of skin ... content of character," remember?).
Let's think about affirmative action. Few of us would deny that a lot of kids, through no fault of their own, are substantially disadvantaged educationally. Maybe they come from a dramatically dysfunctional family, or live in a violent, drug-ridden neighborhood, or attend a lousy school. Maybe their parents don't speak English; maybe they've attended a dozen different schools; maybe they have an undiagnosed learning disorder; maybe they have a physical disability. And just maybe their growth and development has been affected by pervasive racism.
Affirmative action is, admittedly, an increasingly blunt instrument, far less useful for identifying and assisting kids who need help than it once was. It's just one of many tools that colleges use in the admissions process. And let's agree to the obvious: there's no infallible, objective criterion that can tell colleges who they ought to admit, and who they ought to refuse. Colleges use different criteria, as they should. That's why a kid might get into Harvard, but be refused at Colorado College (true!). Admissions officers need to consider each applicant as a unique individual, and they need to know as much about him or her as possible. Maybe race is still a factor to consider, and maybe, as Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor noted, it won't be worthy of consideration 25 years hence.
At bottom, this is an utterly phony issue, and a good example of the most vicious kind of political hypocrisy. If Jones' bill passes, it'll give the GOP's core supporters a nasty little feel-good moment, but it won't improve higher education in this state one iota. It won't buy one brick for a building; it won't pay one dollar in tuition for an at-risk kid; it won't start one new program. It'll just create more paperwork, one more bullshit report that no one will read, one more day that an administrator spends doing meaningless work.
If Jones and his GOP colleagues were serious about improving higher ed in this state, they'd re-examine some of their basic political positions. They'd look at the way that Doug Bruce's lunatic TABOR amendment has prevented universities from raising tuition fees for out-of-state students. They'd look at the irrevocable tax cuts they whooped through in the fat times, which have led to massive budget cuts in the state higher education budget. They'd even listen to some of their fellow conservatives, like Colorado University Regent Jerry Rutledge, who understand the importance of institutions like UCCS to this community.
They'd take these steps because we know that there are young people right here in Colorado Springs who, with a little help, will grow up to make enormous contributions to our country.
Like inventing a truly reliable toupee adhesive ...