Walter J. Leonard, special assistant to President Bok, has written the president of a group that complains about the HEW guidelines that require affirmative action in the hiring of minorities and women to explain his support for the guidelines.
Leonard's letter was addressed to Arthur Hertzberg, president of the American Jewish Congress and AJC Adjunct Professor of History at Columbia. The AJC was one of six Jewish groups that complained to the Office for Civil Rights about the HEW affirmative action program last weekend.
Leonard wrote the four-page letter, however, on December 28, before the new complaints were aired.
The letter said that the term "affirmative action" has been over and misused to such an extent that it appears to have lost its meaning in a sea of discussion, fear, and misunderstanding."
For example, the letter said, "there is an erroneous premise holding that if a member of a minority group or a women is hired, he or she is lpeo facto 'unqualified'."
Leonard said yesterday that his purpose in writing the letter was to try to "examine issues that have been raised" rather than criticize any particular person or group. He said that he had not seen the most recent complaints put forward by the six Jewish groups.
Leonard said that some people mistakenly thought he had read and issued a statement on these complaints. The statements attributed to Leonard in Monday's Crimson came from a Sunday evening telephone conversation.
Both Hertzberg and Leonard attended a New York meeting last month which discussed the affirmative action program. Several Ivy League presidents attended the meeting which was arranged by the AJC for educators and its members.
"A university does not deal with the 'good enough,' but only deals with the very best," he said yesterday. He expressed the hope that discrimination can be climinated without destroying the merit system.
Although Leonard's letter is dated December 28. Hertzberg said yesterday that he had not seen it. Hertzberg concluded that the AJC was "looking, with universities, to do a reasonable job" to end discrimination.