BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Ward Connerly — reviled as an Uncle Tom, hailed as a man of principle and unflinching courage—is moving on to another battlefield.
Connerly’s term as a member of the University of California Board of Regents is drawing to a close after 12 turbulent years in which he led the university, and then the state of California, to drop affirmative action.
“Love him or hate him, he really is the lightning rod for a lot of big issues,” said Jennifer Lilla, a graduate student and president of UC’s student association. Lilla did not always agree with Connerly but said she will “miss his enthusiasm and his energy and his strength of opinions.”
Michigan may be the next battleground for Connerly, who is of black, white and American Indian descent. He and others recently announced they have enough signatures to get a proposed constitutional amendment on that state’s 2006 ballot that would ban race and gender-based preferences in admissions and government hiring.
The 65-year-old Connerly, who will attend his final meeting as a regent this week, was a little-known Sacramento consultant in the land-development business when he was appointed to the Board of Regents in 1993 by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.
In 1995, 13 hours into a tense, stomach-churning meeting interrupted by a bomb threat and punctuated by a protests led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Connerly’s colleagues on the Board of Regents voted 14-10 to dismantle race-based admissions.
At one point, Connerly was surrounded by more than a dozen security officers.
“You could cut with a knife through the atmosphere of that meeting,” he said in a recent interview.
The vote marked the first time that a U.S. public university dropped affirmative action without being forced to do so by a court.
Connerly went on to lead the campaign for Proposition 209, the 1996 California ballot measure that banned race- and gender-based considerations in government hiring, contracting and education. It was the first time a state voluntarily abandoned affirmative action.
A number of states have joined California in dropping race-based college admissions, though largely because of court decisions.