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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Raymond Dawson, February 4, 1991. Interview L-0133. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Tensions surrounding HEW's criteria for desegregation

Dawson speaks at length about tensions between the Office of Civil Rights, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), and the University of North Carolina in 1976-1977 when HEW sought to implement "the Criteria." Focusing on negotiations between UNC President William Friday, Secretary of Education Joe Califano, HEW General Counsel Peter Libassi and his aide, David Breneman, Dawson explains how North Carolina was ultimately seen as a testing ground for ensuring integration of public education. Dawson describes why North Carolina was seen as an especially appropriate testing ground because it had a more well-established system of racial duality than other southern states. In addition, he emphasizes how the two key concerns of HEW's criteria revolved around issues of integration and the preservation of historically black colleges.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Raymond Dawson, February 4, 1991. Interview L-0133. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

By then, we were hot into the elections of 1976 and Mr. Carter won and appointed Joe Califano as his Secretary of Education. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. Secretary of HEW. And a new director at the Office for Civil Rights took over, David Tatel. And we sort of, you know, stood by him, waited to see what was going to happen. President Friday knew Joe Califano. Had known him for a long time. They'd worked together during the Johnson years when President Friday was on the White House Fellows Commission. And, in fact, I remember in 1970, when I was Dean, President Friday did us the favor of getting Joe Califano to come down here and give a speech over in Hill Hall one night. Califano was at that time one of the key people working with that commission designed to reform the Democratic party, and that was the subject of his lecture that night. And I remember I had to find some ashtrays to put up on the podium of Hill Hall because Joe was quite a smoker in those days. Anyhow, we hoped that we would have some reasonable people with whom we could establish a sound working relationship to do what needed to be done. We now know, and found out shortly after, during the course of our law suit that Califano appointed a commission and they went to work to rewrite the guidelines that had been issued back in November of '73, and made a conscious decision not to consult with any of the universities or states about those. They were to be developed in secret. But along in theߞI guess the late winter or early spring of 1977, President Friday was contacted and said that Mr. Califano's special assistantߞNo. His counsel, the counsel for HEW. HEW's General Counsel, Mr. Peter Libassi, and his aide, who was David Breneman, wanted to visit with us. Libassi was a very prominent attorney. David Breneman wasߞI guess Dave was an economist on the staff out at the Brookings Institution in Washington. And later he became president of, I can't think of the private college in Michigan, and I think is still a college president. But they were Mr. Califano's emissaries who were going to come and talk to us about we assumed, what we were going to be called on to do. Because we knew we were sitting here with, you know, with a rejected plan, and we knew HEW was under a court order. It had to do something. And so that was the first word that we had that they would be coming to visit us. Now I remember they came, they arrived on a Sunday, and so we had a long session in that conference room right around the corner. The president invited the Chairman of the Board of Governors, who was Mr. William A. Johnson. Judge Johnson. He was present. I was there. Felix Joyner was there. Dick Robinson was there. Cleon Thompson was there. That's probably pretty much the meetingߞthen Libassi and Breneman. Libassi had a tablet on his lap, and he would speak from that tablet. And that clearly was a draft, a working draft of what came to be known as the Criteria, which was, you know, the new guidelines. But they were going to issue them asߞthey were called Criteriaߞgosh, I never tought I would forget the full name. Let's see, here. [Pause to look for information] You ought to go through our state plans and consent decree at some juncture, and then all these dates. You ought to go, you ought to really go through these. Let's see here. Yeah. The full title is Criteria Specifying the Ingredients of Acceptable Plans to Desegregate State Systems of Public Higher Education. And that's what he was working off of. He raised, you know, a lot of, a lot of good questions. It was a good discussion. But it was clear that the focus now was on increasing black participation and increasing black presence at the historically White campuses. There was very little said about white presence at the historically black campuses. That was just not on their minds. But they made it clear that there were going to be some standards set for us to meet in these other two areas. And it looked like, it sounded as though they were going to be very severe standards and very difficult to meet. They stayed over. I think weߞI believe we met a while that following morning, Monday morning, and then they left. And we heard nothing more. We now know, and the Criteria came to reflect this, that the federal government had something of a dilemna on its hands. The LDF brief, back in early 1975, quoted with approval the dictum of Swann versus Mecklenburg. "No black schools, no white schools, just schools." That's not what the black institutions wanted. And then, see, after that it became clear in those discussions with Libassi and Breneman, and then it became clear to us in the Criteria, that there were really sort of two flags here that one could march under. And they were not necessarily in competition with one another in all senses, but they also were, in a way, fundamentally competitive. One was integration. The other was preservation of the black colleges. Because, you see, we were declared to be in violation of the Civil Rights Act. I guess the Fourteenth Amendment was thrown in, for good measure. Because we were operating a racially dual system of public higher education, and that racial duality was always documented by the fact that we had five institutions whose student bodies were overwhelmingly black, and eleven institutions whose student bodies were overwhelmingly white. Now was the idea to get a racial balance reflecting the whole population on all sixteen, or what? And so these goals, you know, finally can, can become right on. And we found the Federal Government had two flags that it would march under from time to time as circumstances warranted. One of them was integrate. The other was to develop the black institutions. We had no issue with them, in a real sense, over the development of the black institutions. But our problem was that we were, you know, told we were in violation of the law, and we never could get any kind of a guide or standard out of them and what would be the characteristics of a unitary system? "If ours is racially dual, tell us what it is we have to be not to be racially dual?" And that's the question we could never get the answer for except we were simply told, "Well, do what we tell you to do and we'll let you know." Now this was aߞI cannot overemphasize, Bill, this was 1976-77, but I cannot overemphasize to you how difficult our predicament was. Every one involved in this on the University side had been a proponent of the civil rights movement. We had all been proponents of integration of the University. And some of us had had an active role, for example, in working to increase black enrollment at Chapel Hill and elsewhere. Just the symbolism of being in conflict with or at odds with the civil rights establishment was painful. Because while there were still some quarters who would give you high marks for just being in opposition to the Office for Civil Rights, those were not generally the quarters that we looked to as the people with whom we liked to compare ourselves, starting with our faculties. Because faculty members, you know, assume that the civil rights establishment is right, and, again, this was not long after the height of the movement in the '60s. So then, what was wrong with us? What is it we're doing wrong? And this was very difficult for the President, because we knew what it finally came down to, is that we were being asked to do things which were unreasonable and detrimental to the University and destructive, we believed, to the purposes that we thought we should be working toward. But we were being told that by people and offices and organizations who were identified automatically as the champions of civil rights. And so it was a hard thing to think through is, "Do we want to take on the civil rights establishment? Is thereߞisn't there some way to live with them at peace?" Iߞwe get our fix where we're their enemy. Now Libassi was very candid about this in a conversation with President Friday. He told him that he should understand that among the powers up in Washington, who wereߞI'm sure he was referring to the LDF and the folks running the Office of Civil Rightsߞthat they had singled out the University of North Carolina. Their feeling was if they could break the University of North Carolina, they could get anyone. Now that's what we were told. And everything that happened from 1976 onward tended to bring out that we were being set aside as a special case.
That specifically came from Libassi?
Libassi acknowledged that. Privately, to Friday.
He acknowledged that? To Friday?
He acknowledged it. Now on the one hand there was good reason to single us out because more than any state, North Carolina had a racially dual system. We had five historically black public campuses. Virginia had two. South Carolina had one. Georgia had three. Florida had one. You get my point. I mean, this state came closer than any one in constructing really a dual system. So it was kind of logical in a way. But then the other thing they knew was, here was the most prestigious state university in the South, with the possible exception of Texas, but Texas wasn't even a party to the suit. You see, Chapel Hill had a unique placeߞAt that time there was no member of the AAU except Chapel Hill between Charlottesville and Austin. And then there was the fact that it was Chapel Hill. So that's where we were, and that was kind of the horns of the dilemma upon which we found ourselves. The criteria were finally presented to us in July.