James S. Coleman's recent statement in Boston that forced busing is causing a white flight to the suburbs "should not be taken seriously at this point," Thomas F. Pettigrew, professor of Psychology and Social Relations, said last week.
Coleman's remarks, Pettigrew said, were a "gift from God" for legislators and people who would like to give up on school desegregation.
Coleman, professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago, was the head of a study on American public education which, since its publication in 1966, has been used to support school desegregation.
But since April he has surprised liberals and social scientists by saying that school desegregation has caused whites to flee to the suburbs.
Coleman has based his new conclusions on the results of a study now in preparation about trends in the country's 12,000 inter-racial school districts between 1968 and 1972.
Pettigrew said Coleman's statements on court-ordered busing were only his own opinions, and that they were "unrelated" to the study of school desegregation, which is sponsored by the Urban Institute.
He said that the press has reported Coleman's statements as if they were the results of a published report when, in fact, Coleman's analysis of government data remains unpublished and unavailable. "I don't think you should go around the country making policy on unpublished data," he said.
Pettigrew criticized Coleman's research for not considering other factors that might have caused the exodus, such as urban blight and the attractive tax advantages living in the suburbs, and for assuming that urbanization trends will continue as they have in the past.
He said that the cities have been losing whites to the suburbs since World War II, and that the reason for it is unclear. Several social scientists have worked with the same data and have found results differing from Coleman's, Pettigrew said.
In earlier statements, Coleman had cited data from the country's 20 largest school districts, to support his conclusions about "white flight." But Coleman said last Monday that his conclusions applied only to data from eight affected cities.
Pettigrew called the political damage to desegregation from Coleman's remarks "catastrophic." "You can't get a genie back into the bottle," he said.
The Urban Institute has invited Coleman's critics to a private discussion of his findings, and has promised to release copies of the study before the August 4 meeting, Pettigrew said.