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Richardson: Women and the Ivory Tower

Affirmative Action

By Joyce Heard

ELLIOT RICHARDSON '41, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, did not fit my image of the Federal bureaucrat. He was neither paunchy nor pallid from sitting too long under fluorescent light, in fact when a trio of Crimson women interviewed him April 6 he sported a snappy pinstripe suit and a fresh tan from an Asp ex ski weekend.

We were there to talk with Richardson about Affirmative Action Plans for University hiring of minorities and women. Although Richardson himself is not directly in charge of the program--administration instead being handled by Stanley Pottinger '62 and the Office of Civil Rights--Richardson is deeply involved with the program in his capacity as policy maker and official spokesman for he department.

We were not the only Harvard representatives to take up an hour of the Secretary's time discussing the University Affirmative Action Program. A month ago President Bok journeyed to Washington to talk with Richardson about Affirmative Action plans for universities. Bok and Richardson had a general discussion of the situation at Harvard and Bok requested that the department give further guidelines what Affirmative Action means.

Richardson stated that Bok met with him as the official representative of a committee of five college presidents appointed by the American Council on Education several months ago. The committee, formed "to iron out confusion between college presidents and the Department of HEW" according to Bok, represented three schools currently under investigation by HEW, Harvard, the University of Michigan, and Columbia, as well as two others.

According to Richardson, he met with Bok representing the committee. Bok said last week that the committee has been disbanded.

Women's groups, notably Women's Equity Action League (WEAL) protested the committee on the grounds of possible collusion between HEW and the presidents.

One concern that the committee of presidents, Bok, and women's groups have all voiced is the need for clarification of guidelines for setting up Affirmative Action plans.

Under the 1964 Civil Rights Act and an executive order issued by President Johnson amending it, Federal contractors, including universities, must take, "An affirmative action to ensure that minority (including women) applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment without regard to their race, color, religion, sex or national origin."

Harvard first submitted an action program under the laws two years ago. this first plan was rejected HEW. Harvard's second, more specific play, was accepted by HEW last Spring but invalidated last August when the Executive order was amended to require "specific goals and timetables" for minority hiring, Harvard's most recent action plan is currently under review by the New England Regional Office of HEW in Boston.

WE ASKED RICHARDSON what HEW is doing about clarifying guidelines for acceptable affirmative action.

"We hope to put out a memo sometime this spring." Richardson said, "It should help universities to understand what the essential components for a good affirmative action plan are."

"This memo will not impose specific plans on universities, "Richardson continued, "We believe HEW's primary function is to indicate that there has been discrimination. We are willing to give the universities as much help as we can in outlining what constitutes acceptable affirmative action, but the primary responsibility for finding methods to increase the numbers of women and minorities must come from the universities themselves."

"Under this set-up one proper role for the American Council of Education (ACE) that I see is for the ACE to serve as a clearing house rather not tell them specifically what to do, the Council could serve as a focal point for the colleges to exchange ideas."

Richardson pointed out that it is hard for HEW to describe acceptable ways for implementing affirmative action because the concept itself is so new.

"For a long time it was taken for granted that this was the way things were, that there were empirical reasons for treating women differently. In effect it was discrimination. As a result of specific complaints and the affirmative thrust of Civil Rights laws there has been an awakening to facts that had simply been ignored," Richardson said," and all this has only happened within the past few years."

One problem that universities and all Federal contractors required to set up affirmative action plans have in common is discovering what the pool of qualified minority and women applicants consists of and then using this information in connection with estimated vacancies to set up workable goals for hiring.

The problem of determining the applicant pool is made more difficult for universities such as Harvard because they recruit professors and high administrators from a national and sometimes an international pool

Richardson said HEW did not intend to do research to discover what the applicant pool is for university hiring. "This is something each institution will have to assess for itself."

HEW IS CURRENTLY attempting to implement an internal affirmative action plan to end discriminator job practice within the department. Judging from HEW's own recent experience. Richardson foresees "ultimate problems down the road when-all of us have the same lists available. Also it becomes more difficult for smaller institutions to attract quality people while they are forced to compete with the larger more prestigious institutions such as Harvard for people from the same pool."

Richardson humorously remarked that "Perhaps the most valuable quantity in America today is Spanish surnamed black woman."

David Martin, special assistant to the Secretary, pointed out some of the difficulties and successes that HEW has had with its own plan which was passed this January.

"For example we recruited 14 new women for upper level posts but during the same time period 13 others left the department, so how do we rate our progress?" Martin asked.

Martin said that the area where perhaps the most progress has been made within HEW is in appointing women to each department's advisory committee membership."

HEW has appointed to each of its regional offices and affirmative action coordinator to insure that each of HEW's own offices are in compliance with HEW's own guidelines. Only a few of these coordinator have as yet been appointed.

According to Richardson one of the most difficult remaining problems with university affirmative action is the question of access to university files.

"I don't know how this can be solved. I respect the universities feeling that they don't want the long sticky finger of government probing into their files, yet on the other hand we do need some sort of tool whereby to ascertain whether or not there has been discrimination in individual cases and on the large scale."

Noticing that many upper level HEW administrator--including Richardson '41. Pottinger '62. Marshall Moriarity, special assistant to the secretary, and Robert Smith '62. assistant director for public affairs-were all Harvard graduates, we asked Richardson if this might have any bearing on the way Harvard is treated by the department.

"If anything it would end to make us harder on Harvard." Richardson said with a smile.

While on the subject of our collective alma mater, we asked Richardson what his personal opinion was on one-to-one admissions for Harvard.

Richardson's thoughts in the subject were these:

"I think we do need to draw a distinction between what has historically been a coed institution and what has not. Yale for instance. Now Harvard is a special case, all along it has been a kind of hybrid institution.

"I think you will have to agree that if we began admitting women and men on a purely academic basis the women would outnumber the men very quickly. But what we have to ask is, is this an optimal social use of resources?.

The process of answering this question will take a considerable amount of time before we know whether women, given the choice which they do not now have, would decide to spend their lives the way men now do, Would a high enough proportion of women admitted to college on a purely academic basis choose to become stockbrokers, bankers, contractors, professors, the way men do to justify the equal admissions policy?"

Hopefully women will not use positions in education and private institutions gained through plans such a s the affirmative action way men do no,. Women will bring their own capabilities and talents to bear if given adequate opportunity. Maybe women would not show enough agressiveness to be like male bankers and stockbrokers, but is that after all, what we need?

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