Rudenstine Wins Affirmative Action Victory

President leads effort against Riggs Amendment

As one of his personal crusades faced a critical Congressional test this week, President Neil L. Rudenstine flexed Harvard's political muscle and won a big victory on Capitol Hill.

On the table was the Riggs Amendment to the Higher Education Act. The measure, proposed by Rep. Frank Riggs (R-Calif.), would have ended Federal funding for all universities and colleges considering race, ethnicity and gender in admissions decisions, amounting to the end of affirmative action in university admissions.

The measure was opposed by "everyone in higher education," according to Peter Smith, a spokesperson for the Association of American Universities.

Rudenstine has long been outspoken about the need for affirmative action. According to Harvard Vice President for Government, Community and Public Affairs James H. Rowe '73 Rudenstine "picked up the phone" when the amendment was announced and became the leader of an ad hoc coalition against the measure.

"There was no question what Neil thought about this," said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president of the Washington-based American Council on Education (ACE), which opposed the amendment.


Rudenstine's efforts began with a letter to Massachusetts Congressional representatives in which he said the Riggs amendment "could have grave consequences for American higher education as a whole.

Rudenstine telephoned and faxed allies and Congressional leaders. Harvard lobbyists based in Washington and Cambridge armed politicians with ideological ammunition--talking points and quotes for speeches.

But the coalition's leaders said Rudenstine'spersonal involvement was key--the Harvard namemaking his personal soapbox a bully pulpit forinfluencing lawmakers.

"The president of Harvard is by definition oneof the most influential leaders in American highereducation," Hartle said. "It was of incalculablevalue to have the president of Harvard take astrong stance on this issue."

Various revisions to the amendment illustratethe power of Harvard's lobby, according to DianeHampton, a legislative analyst for the ACE.

Riggs changed his proposal, first by exemptinghistorically single-sex institutions and finallyby rewriting his amendment to affect only publicinstitutions.

According to Rowe, Riggs' revisions had noeffect on Rudenstine's determination to defeat theproposal.

"Neil got on the phone right away and urged[the coalition] to continue their battles," Rowesaid. "[We wanted it to be] a clear signal thatthe person in the center of the debate was onlygoing to redouble his efforts."

The revised amendment finally failed by a voteof 249 to 171. Rowe said he saw the results ofhigher-education lobbying in the 55 Republicanswho voted against their party's bill.

University of Texas President Larry R.Faulkner, who is currently fighting affirmativeaction battles of his own, said he had expectedthe measure to fail, but was mindful of theeffects of Rudenstine's efforts.

"The President of Harvard carries a great dealof weight in national decisions," Faulkner said.

Though Rudenstine never left Cambridge as thedebate heated up, Rowe said the Harvard nameallowed him to make a difference without making atrip to Washington.

"[Rudenstine] is not someone who has to be themost visible in order to be the most effective,"Rowe said

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