DEAN OF African-American Affairs M. Rick Turner is out of control. His prejudiced stereotyping of white Americans last week has no place at the University.
At a panel on diversity and affirmative action, Turner told the audience "White parents from the right believe their children have a God-given right to everything." ("Panel discusses views on race and admissions policies," The Cavalier Daily, Feb. 10.) This is hardly an intelligent defense of affirmative action. Instead it falls in the category of just plain silly. But Turner wasn't done there. He went on to explain to the audience that "People from the right go to the selective universities ... and do a lot of damage to the psychological well-being of students black and white."
Turner's comments betray his real view of diversity. His dream seems to be one of a university where the students are of all different races, but they all share the same point of view. Jefferson said, "For here we are unafraid to follow the truth wherever it may lead, and to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it." Turner on the other hand seems to want to close off the University to those viewpoints deemed psychologically damaging. And who determines which thoughts are permitted? Turner himself, of course, because as the leader of the forces of diversity and tolerance he knows better than the rest of us. Besides, Jefferson owned slaves, so what does he know?
It is an overused point, but Turner's comments once again illustrate the double standard that exists whenever public discourse turns to race. If a white administrator said, "Black parents believe they have a God-given right to everything," he would be publicly demonized and hung in effigy on the Lawn. Indeed, if a white official even dares to engage in an open discussion of the University's admissions policies, the NAACP calls for his ouster. If we are to promote open dialogue and diversity at the University, Turner should not be allowed to hide behind the color of his skin while hurling stereotypes and bigotry.
Last week wasn't the first time Turner has resorted to an epithet-hurling rant. Who can forget the time he went to a Student Council meeting to talk about the restructuring of the Office of African-American Affairs? When a number of students had critical questions, he called them "ignorant" and decried the racist atmosphere they were creating. He then went on to proclaim that the day was coming when, "White fathers won't just be able to give their white sons a job anymore" ("Heated debate mars Turner's Council speech," The Cavalier Daily, Nov. 12, 1997).
Perhaps the greatest irony is that the people who are against affirmative action love Dean Turner. He is their poster child. He is their last line of defense. Every time he calls someone a racist, every time he proclaims a white supremacist conspiracy, he turns people away from his cause. Many good people are unsure about affirmative action. It doesn't win them over when Turner equates their doubts with doubts about slavery. In the end all that his outrageous ramblings do is galvanize opposition.
There are good arguments for and against affirmative action. There are undeniable benefits that come from a diverse learning environment, yet there are serious questions regarding the legality of the method the University has chosen to promote it. Those who recognize these problems are not white supremacists. They do not yearn for the days of slavery. What they want is to find legally defensible diversity. This community needs its leaders to calmly and intelligently discuss the future of diversity at the University, and the plan to maintain such an environment regardless of what the courts do. Such an open discussion does not include posturing and demonizing. It certainly does not include the, "either you are with me or you are against me" attitude adopted by Dean Turner.
Regardless of the source, stereotyping and racial generalizations have no place in our public discourse. They promote no agenda except that of ignorance and hate. If Dean Turner can't control his own prejudices about white America, if he can't refrain from engaging in the type of bigoted stereotypes we are supposed to be fighting against, then he should be fired.
(Sam Waxman's column appears Thursdays in The Cavalier Daily.)