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Connerly Speaks, Angry Students Protest

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UNC students protested the appearance of Ward Connerly, who calls for the dismantling of affirmative action.
RALEIGH (AP) — The man who helped todismantle affirmativeaction policies in the country's largest university system saidtoday that racial preferences go against the ``self-evident'' truthoutlined in the Declaration of Independence - that all men arecreated equal.

Ward Connerly told the conservative John Locke Foundation thatMartin Luther King Jr. understood better than most what theDeclaration of Independence meant and often quoted it in hisspeeches.

``He believed that the nation could, as he said so eloquently,someday live out the true meaning of its creed,'' he said.

In recent years, however, America lost track of King's vision,Connerly said.

``Instead, we began to pursue that notion that, as Cornel Westat Harvard says, race matters, and that you have to use race to getbeyond race.''

``The `race matters' philosophy is poisonous for all Americans,because once you start using it, you don't get beyond it,''Connerly said. ``It becomes part of everything you do. And there isno institution in American society that practices it more than theacademy. Race seeps out of every pore of our colleges anduniversities.''

Tuesday night, Connerly urged students at the nation's firstpublic university to reject racial preferences.

``If we can't embrace the notion that all of us will have equalrights as citizens, if we can justify or rationalize separatestandards for our students to be admitted into college on the basisof skin color, then there's no hope for this democracy,'' he said.``It won't work. The system simply will not work.''

``Race has no place in American life or law,'' Connerly toldstudents at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,quoting the late President Kennedy. ``That was supposed to be ourguiding light as a nation.''

Student Tasha Venters says Connerly delivers a frightening message.

Student John Dervin says others have taken up Connerly's rhetoric.

Connerly in 1995 led the University of California Board ofRegents to abolish race as a factor in university admissions. Hewent on to spearhead California's Proposition 209, a successfulballot initiative that banned state and local governments fromusing race or gender preferences in public hiring, education andcontracting.

About 250 students jammed the student union to protest thespeech. The students, about half of them black and half white,chanted, ``No university without diversity,'' and pumped signsdenouncing Connerly's message.

Connerly said his appearance at UNC pointed out how importantitis to rid society of the divisiveness created by emphasizing race.After his speech, audience members formed two lines to askquestions. One line was formed by blacks invariably opposed toConnerly, and the other was formed by whites who supported him.

``What's happened to us to cause us to break off so radicallyonsomething that is supposed to be self-evident, something that is sofundamental to what this nation is supposed to be?'' he asked.

Americans must go back to their roots and embrace the country'sfundamental beliefs as a people, then move on from there, Connerlysaid. Trying to make amends for past injustices, he added, is anexercise in futility.

``At some point, I believe we say, `We're going to wipe theslate clean,' and we're going to say that today is the first day ofthe rest of our lives.... I not going to hold anyone accountablefor yesterday, last year, 300 years ago; I'm going to hold youaccountable for today. Under our system, we don't blame the son forthe sins of the father.''

Connerly's visit to North Carolina follows a decision by UNCPresident Molly Broad to call for a review of affirmative actionpolicies on all 16 UNC campuses. Already, some scholarships forblack students have been abolished, and some special programs havebeen integrated to comply with her directive that campuses get ridof policies that use race as the only factor in admissions,financial aid or scholarship decisions.

Broad said she wants to protect UNC's campuses from lawsuits -and from the drop in black student enrollment that would come witha measure like Proposition 209 - by making sure they are followingthe U.S. Supreme Court's 1978 ruling in University of Californiavs. Bakke. The decision allows race to be considered as one factoramong many in university admissions.

The protestors at UNC Tuesday night made clear theirunhappinesswith Broad's review.

``Students are outraged to learn that some UNC system campuseshave moved beyond the law and are working to eliminate race as afactor in admissions, recruitment and retention,'' said AliFischer, a protest leader. ``This is a huge blow to civil rightsand higher education in North Carolina.''

Meanwhile, Tuesday, at a private reception for Connerly, Rep.Edwin Hardy, R-Beaufort, said he plans to refile hisanti-affirmative action bill, ``The Civil Rights Restoration Act,''during the 1999 legislative session.

The bill, modeled after Proposition 209, failed to pass theGeneral Assembly this year.

``We've had affirmative action in North Carolina for 25 years,and it can stay in place one more year,'' Hardy said. ``But I don'tthink it should be in place much longer than that. I never believedin it in the first place, and its time has certainly passed.''

By RANDALL CHASE,Associated Press WriterCopyright ©1997 AssociatedPress. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast,rewritten, or distributed.

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