Government to Consult with Jewish, Black, Spanish Groups on Issues Raised in the De Funis Case

The federal government has moved to consult with leaders of Black, Spanish and Jewish organizations to consider guidelines on issues in higher education raised by the De Funis case. The government’s action was prompted by a letter on May 17 to Caspar W. Weinberger, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Jointly signed by the executive directors of the three largest Jewish human rights groups and three major civil rights organizations after conferring with Eleanor Holmes Norton, head of New York City’s Commission on Human Rights.

Their letter called on the department to issue guidelines for use by colleges and universities in the development of programs to expand educational opportunities for those historically excluded from full use of the opportunities. In his response, addressed to Roy Wilkins, executive director of the NAACP, Weinberger said that a meeting will be convened “to discuss and weigh the various proposals available for treating this most complex issue.”

“Just as you,” Weinberger wrote to Wilkins, “we wish to see the mechanisms of affirmative action work to eliminate the vestiges of past discrimination, as well as to open fully the doors of higher education to all persons; regardless of race, sex or ethnicity.” Weinberger announced in his letter that Terrel R. Bell, U.S. Commissioner of Education, and Peter R. Holmes, director of HEW’s Office for Civil Rights, will communicate with the signers of the New York letter “in the near future.” Copies of the Weinberger and New York letters were made available here to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Wilkins was one of the New York letter signers. Others were Benjamin R. Epstein of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith; Bertram H. Gold, American Jewish Committee; Vernon Jordan, National Urban League; Naomi Levine, American Jewish Congress; and Cesare Porales, Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund.

AREAS OF DISAGREEMENT ARE MINOR

Marco De Funis of Seattle had complained in 1971 that he was the victim of “reverse discrimination” at the University of Washington Law School in that he was barred from admission to the school while 37 others, mostly Blacks, were allowed to enter despite lesser qualifications. The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision last April that his case was moot since De Funis, under previous rulings pending a Supreme Court test, was allowed to enter the school and was about to be graduated.

In disclosing the action taken by the six organizations in New York, Commissioner Norton said that “despite varying positions” they held on the De Funis case, the groups involved wished to avoid polarization and were in agreement on the goal of “the elimination of all forms of discrimination and the establishment of affirmative actions that will provide equal opportunity within our constitutional framework.”

Commissioner Norton said that the New York Commission had undertaken the Joint action because virtually all the major Jewish and minority civil rights organizations are headquartered in New York and are concerned over the view that disagreement on specific issues threatens the civil rights coalition. However, she said, strains in the coalition have been exaggerated and the areas of disagreement are “minor indeed, particularly when compared with the continuing large areas of mutual agreement and cooperation.”

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