Convinced that diversity is "an absolutely essential element" of a college education--and worried that the debate over race- and gender-based preferences may spark student unrest--UCLA Chancellor Charles E. Young is preparing to launch an impassioned defense of affirmative action at the University of California.
Next week, Young plans to kick off a campuswide education campaign to inform students, faculty, alumni and staff about how affirmative action works, who it benefits and what UCLA--and for that matter, the nation--would be like without it. The idea is to encourage discussion, Young said. And he does not plan to mince words.
"I can tell you if we hadn't done it, it wouldn't be an occasional uprising in South-Central Los Angeles or midtown Detroit," he said in a wide-ranging interview with The Times. "We'd be in a battleground. . . . If we had not been doing what we have been doing for the last 25 years, this place would be a shambles."
Speaking in his office at UCLA on Wednesday, Young said the recent debate has too often been framed around the false premise that affirmative action benefits only disadvantaged and minority students.
"The notion that we're doing it for 'them' is wrong," he said. "This is something we do for all of us."
Young's views are in stark opposition to those of UC Board of Regents member Ward Connerly, who has called for an end to race-based preferences in UC admissions--a proposal the board is likely to consider in June.
Young said Connerly's proposal, if combined with a decision not to raise student fees, would create a situation in which "the poor, whose children aren't going here, pay taxes to provide a (relatively) free education for people who can afford to go to Stanford. If that's sound social policy, I don't understand it."
Currently, it is the regents' policy that the university enroll a student body that represents the cultural, racial, economic and social diversity of the state of California. Admission decisions are based upon academic criteria as well as geographic location, race, ethnicity, gender and special talents or experience. No student is admitted on the basis of race alone.
"I don't think we ought to discriminate against people because they're white, because they're rich, because they are males," Young said. "We ought to work hard to try to enlarge the pool of people who can participate from underrepresented groups. The programs that we operate have not brought people into the university who are not qualified."
In a reference to Gov. Pete Wilson's support for a prospective 1996 ballot initiative that would eliminate many state affirmative action programs, Young described Connerly as "the governor's mouthpiece" and seemed to liken the regent, who is black, to U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, the conservative North Carolina Republican.
"At first there was some concern that (Connerly) was out in front of the governor on this," Young said. "But I guess he's the governor's mouthpiece. I believe he believes it. He believes this deeply. That's what makes it so dangerous--so does Jesse Helms."
When asked to respond, Connerly called Young a "hired hand" whose views about "diversity for diversity's sake" are outdated.
"Likening me to Jesse Helms--whose philosophy on most things is so repugnant to me--is probably one of the greatest insults he could afford me," Connerly said. "That one of the hired hands like Chancellor Young would go beyond the realm of academic freedom and make personal comments about a regent--that is not good management."
Noting that Young, 63, is in his 26th year at UCLA, Connerly added: "He's been there a long time. I say maybe too long." Young's comments, Connerly said, "really make me question his judgement and whether or not he even wants to work with me during my next 10 years on this board."
Young serves at the pleasure of the board of regents, who have the power to fire him.
On Thursday, as word of Connerly's anger about Young's remark spread, Young clarified his use of the word "mouthpiece."
"I have already expressed my regrets to Ward Connerly for that characterization," he said, adding that he only meant to indicate that the governor and Connerly "both feel strongly about this issue."
Young's criticism of Connerly was not the only indication that there is friction between the outspoken chancellor and the regents. During the interview, Young revealed for the first time that he has no interest in succeeding UC President Jack W. Peltason, who is stepping down in October. He said he hopes to remain at UCLA for several more years.
"I did (want to be president). I think I should have been," said Young, who was considered for the $243,500-a-year job in 1992, when the regents chose Peltason. "But (now) there are too many bridges--too many bad feelings."
Young also chided the regents for being part of a political system in which "for the most part, those involved (are) concerned about their continued role in that process rather than concerned about what needs to be done."
Later, he added sarcastically: "The reason the regents don't like me is because I don't speak my mind."
During the next week, Young plans to speak his mind before the academic senate and various alumni, student and community groups. UCLA is developing a course on affirmative action, to be offered in the spring quarter.