Equal education battleground: affirmative action in Seattle

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Affirmative action faces the executioner’s axe — even in Seattle, that paragon city of “livability.”

One of the nation’s most integrated cities, Seattle is in a prolonged uproar over education. Former Washington state governor Dixy Lee Ray set the political climate with her terse dictum, “Education is a privilege, not a right!” And now two critical affirmative action educational programs are threatened, one in the Seattle School District and another at the University of Washington.

Minority kids are the victims

For the past six years, the Seattle School Board has had an affirmative action goal that matched minority staff hiring totals to the district’s percentage of minority students — 42.4%. The present minority staff total is only 25.6%, but the school board, under pressure from the right wing and threats of “reverse discrimination” charges, has scuttled its own policy.

Under a new formula adopted in February, minority hiring is based on the minority percentage in Seattle’s labor force — 22.4%. This shameful substitution coincided with an actual increase in the numbers and percentage of minority students and a decrease of the overall Seattle student population. The increase of minority students would have boosted minority hiring under the old formula.

The problem is further compounded by school closures. Minority teachers have the least seniority and are slated for layoff.

The Seattle Urban League held a special, well-attended community meeting to oppose the change in policy and possible layoffs. It plans to organize within the minority communities.

EOP in danger

At the University of Washington, President William Gerberding threatened to abolish the Equal Opportunity Program (EOP) that enables low-income and minority students to make up academic deficiencies and receive a higher education.

To protest this slaughter, there quickly emerged a coalition of student minority groups, EOP staff, and community organizations — predominantly Chicano, Black, and Asian. Slapped with arrests during demonstrations, the protestors didn’t back down. A wave of public pressure bore down on the University administration to halt any changes in EOP.

The Coalition for Equal Education Programs, initiated largely by militant Chicanas and Chicanos, won a temporary victory when Gerberding agreed not to change EOP, but to set up a task force to “research” the program.

Swim or sink

The Coalition also has an internal challenge to confront: the liberals want to soften the demands of the radicals. Far more worried about alienating the administration than winning the fight, they almost sold out the EOP issue altogether. Opportunism has no color.

The EOP staff, radicals, and community supporters want to fight militantly to save EOP. In the ’60s, these people fought like tigers to win affirmative action, and today they will be the ones to save it. But to win, the militants must win over the liberals, not the other way around!

Equal access to education is a precious thing to people of color. A tough united front with an intransigent leadership can preserve it. ¡Unidos venceremos! is the slogan of the day.

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