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Wall St. And Business Wednesdays: Companies Play Both Sides Of The Fence On Affirmative Action by George E. Curry

The amici curiae, or friend-of-the-court, brief filed with the United States Supreme Court by Fortune 500 companies in support of the University of Michigan’s affirmative action programs extols the value of affirmative action at the university level and in corporate America. “In the practical experience of the amici businesses, the need for diversity in higher education is indeed compelling,” the companies state. “Because our population is diverse, and because of the increasingly global reach of American business, the skills and training needed to succeed in business today demand exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas and viewpoints.
Employees at every level of an organization must be able to work effectively with people who are different from themselves. Amici need the talent and creativity of a workforce that is as diverse as the world around it.”

Among the 65 companies signing the brief were ChevronTexaco Corp., Pfizer Inc., Xerox Corp. and the Altria Group Inc., which was known until this year as Philip Morris Cos. Inc. That those companies were signatories is not surprising.

What is surprising—and unacceptable—is that these same companies that want to be applauded for their support of affirmative action also donate funds to the Center for Individual Rights, the conservative public interest law firm that brought the suits against the University of Michigan on behalf of rejected White applicants.

In a forthcoming book. “The Assault of Diversity: An Organized Challenge to Racial and Gender Justice,” by Lee Cokorinos, the Washington-based Center for Individual Rights was described as “perhaps the most politically extreme of the groups challenging affirmative action, civil rights, and racial equality in the United States today.”

This is the same organization that litigated on behalf of Cheryl Hopwood against the University of Texas, a decision that led to outlawing affirmative action programs in Texas and the states in that judicial circuit. It filed a similar class-action suit against the University of Washington seeking to abolish its affirmative action program but was unsuccessful. It successfully defended Proposition 209, the ballot initiative that outlawed affirmative action in California.

“CIR’s strategy is divisive,” writes Cokorinos, the research director at the Institute for Democratic Studies, a liberal research and education think tank in New York. “In nearly all of its high profile cases involving alleged favoritism toward African-Americans and Latinos, the lead plaintiffs have been white women—a two-edged sword: undermining the idea that women have likewise benefited from affirmative action, and co-opting the vocabulary of the civil rights movement in order to undermine historic public concern about the effect of discrimination against racial minorities.”

According to the CIR’s annual reports, it has also filed suits that :

• Assert that the use of epithets in the workplace should be viewed as constitutionally-protected free speech;

• Oppose a consent decree that allowed the University of Minnesota to distribute $3 million to female faculty members because of gender disparities in salary;

• Challenge the Voting Rights Act provisions that called for the creation of voting rights districts that do not lessen the chance of a person of color exercising political power, and

• Oppose the 1994 Violence Against Women Act.

CIR raises the bulk of its money from conservative foundations that routinely fund many of the Right-wing think tanks. It also collects donations from Fortune 500 companies who play both sides of the fence, hoping not to be exposed.

Cokorinos writes in his book, “CIR’s budget was $1.4 million in 2000. Corporate donors include Archer Daniels Midland Corp., ARCO Foundation, Chevron USA, Adolph Coors Foundation, Pfizer Inc., Philip Morris Cos. and Philip Morris USA, Texaco, USX Corporation, and the Xerox Foundation.”

These companies can’t have it both ways. They are either for us or against us. If they are against us, we should be against them.

We like to boast of having spending power that exceeds $645 billion each year. Where are we spending all that money? Should we be spending it with firms that underwrite—partly with our dollars—conservative think tanks whose primary mission is to eradicate affirmative action and any other program designed to help people who’ve been locked out of society because of their color, sex or national origin?

The list shouldn’t stop there; it should also include the companies that did not go on record in support of the University of Michigan.

And where are our so-called leaders on this issue? Why aren’t they speaking up? Have they literally taken hush money? Are you still with us on this issue Jesse? Mufume? Hugh? C. DeLores? Rev. Al? Where are the student activists?

If our leaders can’t lead on this issue, maybe it’s time to get some new ones.

George E. Curry is editor-in-chief on the NNPA News Service and

George Curry

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

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