Regents study affirmative action

By Ann McBride

Arizona Daily Wildcat

TEMPE The future role of affirmative action at all three state universities dominated yesterday's Arizona Board of Regents meeting held at Arizona State University.

Affirmative action was discussed for three hours by the regents and members of the audience during a "study session" in which no action was taken. About 20 speakers addressed the regents all in support of continued or improved affirmative action programs on college campuses.

Viola Fuentes, an ASU student who spoke on behalf of the Native American Business Organization, said she views the colloquy not as a threat, but "as an opportunity to partake in constructive dialogue."

It is important that "student voices are heard in this process," she said, "as a positive sign with a positive outcome."

Speakers included representatives from the NAACP, the Urban League, Maricopa County Hispanic and Asian Bar Associations, the Motorola Corporation, the League of Women Voters and students.

Jose Martinez, an ASU student, presented the regents with 1,000 signatures on a "petition in support of diversity."

This is just the beginning, he said, as he plans to contact student leaders at Northern Arizona University and UA to form a state-wide coalition of support and present the board with another petition at its next meeting.

A national dialogue has erupted around the issue of affirmative action following a University of California Board of Regents decision in July to eliminate their affirmative action plan. The Arizona Board of Regents entered the affirmative action arena in June when regents criticized race-based financial aid at the universities.

Affirmative action, defined in an Arizona Board of Regents packet, is a set of measures taken to ensure fair treatment and create opportunities for underrepresented applicants. Affirmative action enters universities through employment, student admissions, student financial aid, and procurement, according to materials distributed at the meeting.

UA President Manuel Pacheco said during his presentation that there is "ample justification to move ahead with affirmative action," and "extra efforts" are warranted in recruiting and maintaining underrepresented populations based on "economic reasons alone." Pacheco stressed that these programs serve an "educational purpose" at the university level.

Regent's President-elect John Munger said the issue is not whether he supports diversity because he does but rather if race-based financial aid and similar programs are the way to go.

Munger said affirmative action programs have been successful, but that is not the issue.

"This issue is how we continue to adapt to a system as we progress through the years," he said. More attention needs to be directed at grades Kindergarten through 12, Munger said, because the schools are not graduating a large enough number of minority students who are eligible to enter the universities. Munger said financial aid should be based solely on need, if that means the majority of the aid is given to minority students, he has "no problem with that," but, "race doesn't have to be a factor."

Regent Andrew Hurwitz, whose term expires in January, said nothing the board did was more important than its 1988 Common Commitment which addressed the issues of improving recruitment, retention and graduation of minority students.

"The job isn't done yet," he said. Affirmative action to Hurwitz is one of justice, not economics, he said, as he told the board its direction and policies are important to the state.

"People listen to what we do and say," Hurwitz said.

Peterson Zah, ASU advisor to the president on American Indian Affairs, said he looks to the regents to serve as "good shepherds" who will pay special attention to the weak in the community who may have fallen behind.

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