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President Bush's Sly and Savvy Recess Appointment by Stacey Barney

On the cusp of the Easter weekend, President Bush bypassed the Senate confirmation process with five recess appointments to federal posts that included Gerald A. Reynolds's appointment as assistant secretary to the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR). President Bush's motive in making these recess appointments is clear; he wants simply to avoid the possible defeat of his nominations in the Senate Committees.

Does he have the right? Certainly.

The constitution, while giving the Senate the right to approve presidential nominations, also gives the president the right to make federal appointments while Congress is in recess. White House spokesperson Anne Womack further defended the president's tactic saying, "The people of the United States deserve to have the full strength of the federal government working for them..."

To that end, President Bush's recess appointments will ensure Reynolds' a job through the end of Congress's next session, and senior Democrat Ted Kennedy, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee - the very committee that presided over Reynolds' confirmation hearing in February - is riled. In a statement made after the announcement of the recess appointments, Kennedy said, "This is one more example of the administration's lack of commitment to the enforcement of our nation's civil rights."

Kennedy, who has raised serious doubts as to Reynolds' qualifications was preparing to bring Reynolds' nomination before the committee for a vote next month - the outcome of which was uncertain as Senator James M. Jeffords (I-VT) had not announced how he would vote.

The reservations voiced by Kennedy, along with the NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the Association of People With Disabilities, and the American Association of University Women (AAUW), in regards to Reynolds' nomination include not only Mr. Reynolds' status as a virtual education neophyte, but also Reynolds' vocal stance against Affirmative Action, calling it a "corrupt system of preferences."

In regards to the president's nomination of Gerald Reynolds, his savvy move to circumvent a possible defeat of Reynolds' nomination with a backdoor recess installment of his preferred candidate, and the political fallout Bush will assuredly suffer as a result, I as an educator always find it sadly amusing to watch government officials squawk and squabble over educational policy and appointments. I additionally find it ironic that in the midst of all this squabbling, everyone in the country is perceived an expert on education, except the educator, when this is the very question that should be asked of Mr. Reynolds' candidacy.

Is he an educator?

Gerald Reynolds' stand on Affirmative Action doesn't worry me as much as the fact that his position is based solely upon an undergraduate concentration in education, experience as a student teacher, and a solitary year spent meeting with private school administrators and reviewing research literature as the head of the Center for New Black Leadership (CNBL). Gerald Reynolds is essentially a lawyer, and served as such for Kansas City Power and Light up until September of last year; his duties included supervising federal contracts and obtaining permits from regulatory agencies.

This is not the background of an educator dedicated to the rights of students, and it escapes me as to how such a background qualifies Reynolds to command any post at the U.S. Department of Education, especially a post in the OCR - an office that protects crucial civil rights legislation.

The endangerment to these laws is not Reynolds's ideology, but rather that which does not inform his ideology. Reynolds is a corporate lawyer with what Secretary of Education Rod Paige, has called "a longstanding interest in education." If only teachers could be hired just on a longstanding interest in education.

Where are the years spent in the trenches of America's educational institutions? What is his educational philosophy? Where is Reynolds's own body of educational research and theory? What is his stance on the decrease of school success for minority students in the middle school years? How does he propose schools check a pedagogical tendency to rear male students towards mathematics and the sciences at the expense of female students? How does Reynolds propose to ensure that African American students graduate from the nation's public schools with the same educational experience as White students when the culture of the public school is often at odds with the culture of the African American home?

These are critical questions to which Reynolds has provided no answers. These are the questions of educational policy that anyone who really understands the true business of education is interested in. How can Reynolds be considered to defend the rights of America's students if he doesn't understand the true difficulties they face - namely racism?

Is Affirmative Action "a corrupt system of preferences, set-asides and quotas," as Reynolds has asserted? Often times yes. It is hard to dispute the inherent paradox of a system that seeks to redress past discrimination with a newer system of discrimination. However, educating America's youth, especially African American youth goes far beyond advocating for or against Affirmative Action. One has to understand how racism impedes upon the chances an African American child has for success in America's schools.

If Reynolds spent any length of time in a classroom of African American students who can't read at grade level because they aren't culturally prepared for a school curriculum that operates on Eurocentric ideologies then perhaps he'd change his tune. Perhaps the difference would be in even having one conversation with intelligent African American students who have resolved not to succeed because of an often times correct assumption that their White teacher doesn't want them in the classroom.

Instead of engaging these nuances, Reynolds looks only at the surface problems of poverty, crime rates, and the number of births to single mothers, without examining the ultimate reason these problems exist: racism. Reynolds asserts, "If we could wave a magic wand and do away with racism and discrimination overnight, it is not going to change or improve the lives of Black Americans."

Well, no one can magically erase racism, but certainly, forcing a society who would like to function as if racism no longer existed to deal with the reality, is a step in improving the circumstances of impoverished African American students. And what will change the circumstances of these students and end the need for Affirmative Action is assuredly a coherent federal agenda directed toward the goals of changing school culture and providing true equal access based upon pedagogy that engages cultural learning styles.

Does Reynolds embody such an agenda? When asked about his intentions if confirmed, Reynolds simply recited empty rhetoric: "If I am confirmed," he said, "I will...promote Affirmative Action programs that are consistent with the Constitution..." Consistent with the Constitution means ignoring the reality of institutional racism in this country. Reynolds further described Affirmative Action as an "empty vessel in which you can pour anything," without providing his explicit vision for how Affirmative Action would or would not function in America's schools under his watch. The questions I wish Reynolds would answer given his disdain for Affirmative Action is simply this: What is the viable educational alternative?

I agree with Reynolds that Affirmative Action should not be the permanent solution, but before there can be a disbandment of Affirmative Action, there must be a plan in place to deal with the cultural inequities of the American educational system that places African Americans on the bottom rungs. It is not my belief that Reynolds has the knowledge or experience needed to develop and implement such a plan. It is not my belief that Mr. Reynolds even understands the circumstances of the American educational system that is driving the need for Affirmative Action.

Perhaps the luck in President Bush's sly move to install Reynolds' as the assistant secretary to the OCR is that Reynolds now has more than half a year to prove exactly how far a longstanding interest in education will go.

Stacey Barney is an editorial page writer for Ms. Barney can be reached at

Stacey Barney

Tuesday, April 2, 2002

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