Under a cloudless sky and an unforgiving noonday sun, the Rev. Jesse Jackson urged University of Texas students Tuesday to boycott a controversial law professor’s class but cautioned school officials against turning the man into a martyr by firing him.
“Don’t ever make him into a legal martyr,” the civil rights leader and former presidential contender told a massive gathering on campus. “Turn him into a moral and social pariah.”
University police estimated the crowd at 5,000. They heard Jackson and several faculty members, students and other speakers condemn law professor Lino Graglia.
Last week, Graglia said that blacks and Hispanics cannot compete academically with whites and that they come from cultures that do not disgrace failure. His comments were a reiteration of some of his long-held beliefs that he has espoused publicly and written about over the years.
But in the tinderbox of emotions on campus since a court decision ruled race-based admissions illegal in Texas, Graglia’s words ignited a firestorm of allegations of racism and debate over free-speech rights.
“There is on campus today,” Jackson said, “free speech and foul speech - free speech and foul, offensive, mean-spirited fascist speech. He (Graglia) has the legal grounds for free speech but no moral grounds and no scientific grounds for his racist, fascist, offensive speech.”
Jackson added that while Graglia may be academically well-qualified, “he has a character-deficit disorder.” University officials who hired him three decades ago, he said, “had a blurred vision of humanity.”
University of Texas Law School Dean M. Michael Sharlot said Tuesday that the school would “sympathetically” consider all minority students’ requests to transfer out of Graglia’s required first-year constitutional law course.
Graglia, a 67-year-old tenured professor, said in a written statement Tuesday that his comments last week “have given rise to misunderstandings and inaccurate statements.
“My opposition to racial preferences does not, of course, constitute opposition to equal access and opportunity,” he said.
He said the termination of racial preferences in light of the court ruling “in no way detracts from the university’s and law school’s demonstrated commitment to equal opportunity.
“There is no basis, therefore, for any claim that the university and law school may now reasonably be perceived as inhospitable to blacks and Mexican-Americans or reason to doubt that they remain more than welcome,” he added.
Graglia also said his statement that blacks and Hispanics come from cultures in which failure is not considered a disaster “has been taken out of context and misunderstood.”
Graglia said the misunderstandings arose when reporters asked questions of him last week at a press conference announcing a student group supporting the court’s affirmative-action decision.