Rice Considered a Centrist on Affirmative Action at Stanford

Times Staff Writer

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, whose stance on affirmative action drew nationwide headlines last week, generally took a centrist approach to race and gender preferences during her years as provost of Stanford University in the 1990s, according to supporters and some critics on campus.

Rice antagonized some female faculty members and other supporters of affirmative action by asserting that in one important arena -- decisions on whether junior faculty should be promoted to tenured positions, which guarantee lifetime employment -- affirmative action should not apply.

Her remarks on that point have figured in a four-year investigation by the federal Department of Labor into the university's personnel practices.

A spotlight was put on Rice's views on affirmative action a week ago, when she issued a statement on President Bush's opposition to the race-based student admissions practices at the University of Michigan that are being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court. Rice said she backed Bush, but went on to say that "it is appropriate to use race as one factor among others in achieving a diverse student body."

To Rice's admirers and her critics from her days at Stanford, the position had a familiar ring.

"You couldn't say she was a fervent, outspoken advocate of affirmative action," said Albert Camarillo, a Stanford history professor specializing in American 20th century race and ethnicity issues. "She was generally supportive of affirmative action, with limits."

"She's not Ward Connerly," said Cecilia L. Ridgeway, a sociology professor, referring to the architect of California's Proposition 209, an anti-affirmative action measure that passed in 1996. "She does not want to say, 'Oh, it [affirmative action] is all wrong.' "

In the area of affirmative action as it applies to student admissions, Rice had a fairly low profile at Stanford.

The school was considered to have a good track record among the elite universities in enrolling underrepresented minorities. It maintained enrollment levels of 8% for blacks and 11% for Latinos during Rice's time as provost.

James M. Montoya, a former administrator at Stanford who directed admissions and then served as a vice provost for student affairs reporting to Rice, said Rice "was really serious about making certain our diversity programs were well-grounded."

Montoya said he was impressed by Rice's "commitment to making certain that we ensured diversity through affirmative action" while at the same time making sure that "there were no quotas, no set-asides, no separate tracks in which students were being considered in the admissions process, and that race was one of a number of factors that contributed to a diverse and robust student body, but that race be considered as only one factor."

The best known episode involving Rice and affirmative action came at a tense faculty senate meeting in May 1998, where she established limits to affirmative action on campus.

Rice, who as provost was the university's chief academic officer, got into an intense debate with various professors about the status of women faculty and the use of affirmative action in tenure decisions, according to minutes of the meeting and the Stanford Report, an official university publication.

In the meeting, Rice emphasized that she supported affirmative action in hiring, but said she was "completely opposed to the introduction of affirmative action criteria at time of tenure," the Stanford Report said.

"I am myself a beneficiary of a Stanford strategy that took affirmative action seriously, that took a risk in taking a young PhD from the University of Denver," she said at the meeting, referring to her arrival on campus in 1981.

But, she said, "in principle, I do not believe in, and in fact will not apply, affirmative action criteria at the time of tenure."

Linda A. Mabry, who taught at Stanford Law School from 1993 to 1998, said Rice's comments "set a tone that there wasn't a problem" with low numbers of women and minorities moving into tenured positions.

"For those of us who were there, to see claims that she actually fought for diversity, and fought for affirmative action and was a champion on these issues at Stanford, leaves us completely dismayed, because that wasn't what happened," Mabry said.

Mabry was one of the group of more than a dozen junior faculty and researchers who triggered the Labor Department investigation of Stanford by filing a discrimination claim. She has since given up practicing and teaching law to teach at an after-school program in East Palo Alto.

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