Affirmative Action Policy Debated

Cambridge School Committee Solicits Opinions at Public Hearing

School officials, city residents and members of the school committee debated the Cambridge School District's affirmative action policies at a public hearing last night.

The district has not yet met its 1982 court-ordered mandate to increase its proportion of minority employees to 25 percent, according to Regina A. Caines, affirmative action officer for the district. Only 18 percent of full-time teachers and about 20 percent of the district's total staff are minorities, she said.

The district has had trouble meeting its goal because the number of minority-group members graduating with degrees in education has dropped markedly over the past 20 years, according to Director of Human Resources Barbara Allen.

"There is a very steadily declining pool of teachers to choose from," Allen said. "And there is increased competition for minorities due to that scarcity."

School Superintendent Mary Lou McGrath defended the district's efforts, saying that school officials must balance between hiring minority faculty and providing an excellent education for students.

"We are making reasonable efforts towards inclusion," McGrath said. "We will neither allow discrimination nor sacrifice quality."

Minorities comprise 28 percent of the population of the city of Cambridge and 56.6 percent of students in the Cambridge public schools, according to U.S. Census data and school department records.

"The youth of the city are more diverse than the population of older residents," Randall P. Wilson, data manager for Cambridge Community Development, said in an earlier interview.

But only 15 percent of Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School teachers--and no academic department leaders--are minorities, Caines said.

"I look at these stats and wonder where all the [minorities] are," said resident Rev. Nelson Fox. "I don't see all the people you're counting [as minorities]."

Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves '72 said that the district is failing to expose its high school districts to an increasingly multi-cultural world.

"We have to understand that students come to me and ask why they can go through high school and not have male teachers of color or female teachers of ethnic background," Reeves said.

But Robert J. Hunter, a lifelong Cambridge resident, said the district's affirmative action policies are divisive and amount to discrimination against whites.

"Affirmative action makes all the country a quota," he said. "It's wrong to ask people 'what color is your teacher?' We're all one society."